File picture: Prisoners get air time at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca

Rhondor Dowlat-Rostant

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) is warning of “an explosive set of circumstances” at the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) where 86 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

This follows unrest among some inmates in the quarantine section at MSP on Tuesday. Although the incident was short-lived as a prison officer on duty quickly quelled the situation, the POA called for “a very focused and aggressive response to ensure the lives of the officers and inmates are protected as much as possible.”

Police are investigating threats made to two prison officers assigned to the MSP. A prison officer made a report to the Longdenville Police Post that while he was on exercise duty at the MSP he was told: “Longdenville boss watch your back. We coming out just now.”

The prison officer said because he is from the Longdenville area he felt threatened by the words.

In the other reported incident, a 39-year-old prison officer said an inmate he knows from Edinburgh 500, Chaguanas, who is awaiting trial for murder, looked at him and said: “All allyuh tun key dead, especially you 500 boss.”

Acting Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan said officers are being threatened daily basis but “much is being done” to them.

“Trust me,” he said.

In a statement, the POA said they “continue to advise our members that self-preservation is paramount.”

Videos widely shared on social media show unsanitary conditions in cells where inmates claimed 12 of them are being housed in one cell putting them at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Last week 22 inmates were swabbed for testing and 12 officers. To date, 68 positive results have been received by acting Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan.

The POA said its members have been navigating a very hostile environment.

“Now we must add the very real issues surrounding COVID-19 and its associated challenges to our members. One must note, that notwithstanding the public general unsympathetic posturing in relation to the conditions under which prisoners are held, that most inmates return to society. The prison environment has been described by some as “stationary cruise ships” where cruise ships have been proven to be some of the most highly contagious environments for the spread of the virus.”

The POA said t it has already “seen some upheavals and expect more such incidents because the management or lack thereof continues to place both officers and inmates in extreme danger,”

Provision of PPE equipment is either insufficient or absent the Association said, adding: “This is on the backdrop of continued cuts to the budgetary allocations to the Prison Division. The Association is of the view, that the need for PPE in the prison is on the same level as that of a medical institution housing Covid-19 positive patients. Additionally, a proper operational audit should be done, to ensure those rolled back activities are continuously monitored and assessed to ensure cross-contamination and infection be reduced to a minimum, if at all.”

Police are investigating direct threats made on two prison officers, who are currently assigned to the MSP.