Monday, June 04, 2001

The Prison in St Vincent No 2

Discussion Paper circulated to participants at the Sentencing Policy Conference held in the Judge’s Chambers, Court Room No 2, prior to the June 2001 Criminal Assizes.
1.           Internally, the Prison continues, since my last visit prior to the February Assizes, to be run entirely by the inmates.  The institution is completely controlled by a group of gang-leaders referred to by both the inmates and by the warders as “the Radicals.”  The Radicals decide which inmates sleep in which cells, who talks to whom, what the distribution of drugs and alcohol is to be, and at what cost, who will work and who will stay in the prison yard, who gets beaten and who gets stabbed.  The warders remain outside of the Prison yard.  In practice, they only provide a ring around the men inside, who live subject only to gang regulation.  The Prison continues to be awash with blood nearly every day.  The Radicals order the nails and teeth of inmates to be pulled as routine punishments.  Beatings, rapes, stabbings and arm-breakings are standard conditions of living in the Prison.  There is no reason to believe that HIV prevalence has reduced from the 40% level reported in February.  Drugs, money, weapons and alcohol continue to pour over the walls and through the gate.  The Acting Superintendent reports that certain warders co-operate with the convicts.  They allow all forms of contraband through the main gate.  He says they do this sometimes for money and sometimes from fear of certain gang members.

Attitude of Warders

2.           The warders no longer patrol the internal prison yard, either in the day or in the night.  They stay outside the gate, except when their senior officers force them inside.  They only venture inside in large patrols, and for short periods of time.  The warders can see when an inmate is having his teeth extracted with pliers or a hammer and nail, or his limbs broken with bed-boards.  They consider themselves powerless to intervene.  This has happened right up against the gate that separates the inmates from the warders.  The warders have been afraid to open the gate to rescue the inmate being assaulted.  Inmates are beaten into unconsciousness by other inmates in front of warders.  Out of fear they do nothing to intervene.  Their lives as well as the inmates’ lives are continuously at risk.  On the day of my visit to the Prison, 5 inmates were reported by the Acting Superintendent to have been hospitalized for serious injuries.  The warders who had observed the altercation in question are reported to have locked the men involved in a cell and told them to go ahead and kill themselves.  No proceedings are expected to be brought against any of the convicts or the warders in question.  In terms of conditions prevailing at the Prison, there was nothing unusual or exceptional in the incident.  There is unlikely to be any written record made anywhere of the incident, or of the wounds given and received by the inmates.

Incidents Book

3.           No report is made by any warder of any mutinous or violent assault committed by any inmate in his presence.  There is in effect no requirement on the part of the prison authorities that such incidents be reported or proceedings brought against the offenders.  No mechanism presently exists for making any such report.  The “Incidents Book” for reporting such matters has not been kept for some years.  No record of any injuries is kept by the warders.  No punishments are imposed by the Superintendent or the visiting justices.  Criminal charges are not routinely brought for criminal offences committed by inmates.

Enforcement of Rules

4.           None of the existing Prison Rules designed for the good management and governance of the Prison and the inmates appear to be enforced.  The Rules are not discussed among the warders or the inmates.  No copy was immediately available for inspection on the visit to the Prison.  There is no need to make new Rules.  The present Rules have to be circulated and discussed and strictly enforced if the situation in the Prison is to be improved.  The existing Rules, if enforced, could bring about a transformation of conditions in the Prison. 

Medical Facilities

5.         There is a Doctor’s Record kept by the Prison Doctor.  It is mainly used for recording prescriptions of medication.  The medical authorities do not regularly fill these prescriptions.  The authorities seldom deliver the medication prescribed by the Prison Doctor to the inmates in question.  The Acting Superintendent has stated publicly that in the absence of official supplies, he had personally spent thousands of dollars out of his own pocket over the past two years providing inmates with vital drugs for diabetes and other chronic illnesses they suffered.  The convicts I spoke to confirm that the claim is true.
6.           The Prison Clinic under construction on my last visit in February is still incomplete.  There is no facility at the prison to treat injuries.  Battered and wounded inmates cannot be treated in any way at the Prison.  They have to wait for many hours after their beatings for transport to be organized to take them to the casualty department at the public hospital. 
7.           The previous Prison Doctor has ceased regular visits to the Prison.  It is thought she has been transferred.  I was told that it is believed that a new doctor has been assigned to the Prison.  He has not visited in the several weeks since the previous doctor ceased attending. 
8.           The completion and equipping of the Clinic, the resumption of regular medical visits, the immediate compliance with directions given by the doctor, and the taking of sensible and practical measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the HIV virus, will go a long way to making conditions in the Prison more humane.

Visiting Justices

9.           The warders reported that no visiting justices have enforced the Prison Rules at the Kingstown Prison for many years.  Only the visiting justices can impose the punishments for serious infractions provided by the Prison Rules.  In the absence of a professionally functioning and well-trained board of visiting justices, the Prison Rules cannot realistically be expected to be enforced. 
10.       The Acting Superintendent reports that the visiting justices have not been to visit the inmates for several months, certainly not since either the last sitting of the Court of Appeal or of the last Assizes. 
11.       The Court of Appeal, at its last sitting in St Vincent in February past, ordered the visiting justices to prepare and submit to the Court a Report on Prison Conditions.  The Court of Appeal next sits in July.  In my visit to the Prison I enquired on how the report was progressing.  I was informed that the Report has not been completed.  It is not expected to be completed for presentation to the next sitting of the Court of Appeal.  I was told that the chairperson of the visiting justices had been preparing the report.  I was told that before she could complete her report, general elections had resulted in a change of administration, and she had been dismissed as a JP.  She will no longer be able to complete the Report.  No one at the Prison could inform me whether there was presently a new chairman or a functioning board of visiting justices.

Inadequate Facilities

12.       There appear to be two principal causes of the present unacceptable state of affairs at the Prison.  The first is that the building and facilities are under-funded and inadequate.  There is an unacceptable lack of provision by the authorities of minimal financial, human, and material resources for the Prison.  Two token examples can be given.  First, the food of the men is still cooked on open wood-fuelled fires in the prison yard.  The modern kitchen built at the initiative of the present Acting Superintendent remains unequipped and unused.  Secondly, the men mainly sleep on the concrete floors of their cells.  Their beds are unusable because they lack wooden slats on the beds.  These are removed by gang leaders to be used as weapons or for illicit cooking in the cells during the nights.  The other unacceptable physical conditions described in the last Assizes as a result of my first visit to the Prison in February, remain unalleviated.

Lack of Professionalism

13.     The second cause of the unacceptable state of affairs at the Prison is the complete lack of professional training for the warders.  None of them has ever received any kind of training, according to what I have been told.  There is an Acting Prison Superintendent at the Prison.  The Acting Superintendent is a retired police officer with no previous experience in running a prison.  The presently vacant post of Superintendent of Prisons has not been advertised.  The Acting Superintendent tells me that no one is presently away at an appropriate institution studying to fill the post.  The last time any warder is said to have received any training was in about the year 1984.  As a result, none of the warders has any idea of the most basic techniques for maintaining order and discipline in a prison.  The warders do not enforce any Rules.  They do not appear to be aware of the Prison Rules.  Some of them are said to be unable to read and write. 
14.       Those warders with ability and motivation should be sent away on attachments at better-run prisons in our region so they can learn how to perform their duties.  If the aid agencies provide foreign training for prison officers, their assistance should be accepted.  For the conditions in the Prison to improve, it is essential that the science of prison management and prisoner control be taught and enforced.  The authorities should consider enforcing a zero tolerance to crime and insubordination regime in the Prison.

Lack of Discipline

15.     The Acting Superintendent reports that the warders do not obey his instructions.  He is a retired police Superintendent, and not “one of them.”  He finds himself powerless to discipline mutinous warders.  When he attempts to do so, they claim to be civil servants and only amenable to the Public Service Commission.  He complains there are no rules made for the disciplining of warders that he can enforce. 
16.       Some of the warders yearn for the good old days when the Superintendent ruled the prison by terror and extremely violent methods.  The methods used then, they say, may have been illegal, but the warders and inmates were safe from the level of violence now current. 
17.       No pending charge against any mutinous warder has been brought to my attention.  If any charges do exist, they are not being pursued.
18.       This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.  There is an urgent need for the authorities to weed out the bad eggs from among the warders.  They need to be prosecuted and dismissed if convicted.  They need to be replaced by properly motivated and trained new officers.  If the existing Prison Rules for ensuring discipline continue not to be enforced, the future will remain bleak.  The provision of a new Prison without a completely new attitude among the warders will be a complete waste of time. 

Lack of Security

19.       The newspapers report that the police have been stepping up their raids on the Prison.  Each raid continues to see the confiscation of ever increasing volumes of contraband.  This includes not only drugs, alcohol, and money, but also weapons.  More frequent Police raids on the Prison are called for.  Security at the gate needs to be stepped up.  Detachments of police officers need to be on permanent duty at the Prison.  They need to be stationed both inside and outside the Prison.  They need to be there in rotation over 24 hours a day for the foreseeable future.  They will need to remain there until the prison is properly staffed with trained warders, and the prisoners have been brought under discipline.  Their duty would not be to enforce Prison Rules.  Their duty would be to apprehend and prosecute persons committing crimes.  Violent acts would be investigated and prosecuted.  Inmates found with contraband would be prosecuted.  Warders who permit the introduction of contraband would be investigated and disciplined by the appropriate authority.  Warders committing offences would be prosecuted and dismissed if convicted.  Members of the public who introduce contraband must be prosecuted and punished.  So long as the authorities fail to enforce the law, and continue to permit the Prison Rules to be ignored, the Prison remains unsafe as a place of incarceration for the normal convicted person.

II – Comments on Fining

20.       This court will need to be particularly sensitive in future when imposing a fine.  There is no point in imposing a fine that cannot be paid.  If there is no means to pay the fine, it is preferable that some other penalty be imposed.  If the convict is to be imprisoned, it is better that that penalty be as a result of its deliberate selection by the court. 
21.       It is not proper that some person other than the judge or magistrate decides which convict will be sent to prison for failure to pay a fine, and which other convicted person will be given the favour of remaining at liberty.  That state of affairs is illegal.  It removes the sentence of imprisonment from the judiciary and transfers it to officers of the executive. 
22.       Ours is an impoverished nation.  Most employed persons in this community earn only EC$20.00 per day.  Most convicts come from the poorest class of persons.  Few of them can afford to pay any but the most trivial of fines.  In future, only if this court has thoroughly investigated the means of a convicted person, and is satisfied as to his ability to pay a fine, will a fine, with a term of imprisonment in default, be imposed.  Giving an unemployed man time to pay a fine is no solution. 
23.       In cases where a fine is the chosen penalty for a particular offence, the court must adopt exceptional devices to ensure that an imposed fine can be paid.  For example, the court may consider delaying imposing the fine until the convicted person appears in court at a later date with money in his pocket.  In that way, the proposed fine can reasonably be imposed with every expectation that it will be paid.  If the person is unable to appear before the court with adequate funds in his possession, then the court must deliberately consider whether a sentence of imprisonment or some other penalty is appropriate.  It will not be a just sentence to let the convicted person got to Prison more or less by accident.

III – Comments on Probation

24.       The Probation Department has not had its situation improved since the last Assizes.  The members still perform all the social welfare activities of the government.  They are still without resources to provide probationary supervision.  No probation service other than counseling can be performed.  Due to the lack of transportation, they cannot visit probationers.  Only if a person on probation is so considerate as to visit the office will he receive a little counselling.  This is not the intention or purpose of a probation order.

IV – Comments on Remand Prisoners

25.       Given the conditions described above, only the most hardened and violent criminals should normally expect to be imprisoned in the existing facility.  My visit revealed that a large portion of the inmates continue to be very young men.  The Superintendent reported that over 30 of the 270 inmates there in the Prison at the time of the visit were on remand.  These are men who have not yet been convicted of any offence.  They are awaiting their trial.  Meanwhile, they are being mixed in among the convicted murderers and robbers.  Very bad things are happening to them both mentally and physically that were never intended.
26.       Many of those on remand at the time of my visit appeared to be first-time offenders.  Many of the inmates continue to be very young persons.  Even in normal circumstances, young persons and first-time offenders are seldom, if ever, sent to prison.  Only the most violent and serious of offences would warrant imprisonment in the case of a first offence.  Many of these young first-time offenders may be in Prison only for failing to pay an unrealistically high fine, and not as a deliberate decision to sentence them to a term of imprisonment.
27.       One of the ancient powers of a judge at the criminal Assizes has always been to clear the Prison of persons who are illegally held there.  This power was originally given to the judge by a special Writ of Gaol Delivery.  Now, it is an inherent part of his powers during the Assizes.  A token of its original function remains in a ritual performed at the end of each Assizes.  Then, the Superintendent of Prisons makes a Prison Return to the judge.  He reports on how many inmates are in his custody.  Normally, the judge just listens to the Return and nods his head.  It is now time to bring the process back to something of its original purpose. 
28.       During the course of the coming Assizes, I intend to have the Superintendent of Prisons report on every prisoner on remand in the Prison.  I shall want to know what each prisoner is on remand for.  I shall want to know how long he has been on remand.  All but those who qualify, as repeated and violent criminals, for continued incarceration in the present facility will be ordered released on bail if they have been on remand for more than a few days.  To ensure the Prison remains permanently cleared of unsuitable inmates, I intend to go through the same procedure every week until the end of the Assizes.  If I discover it to be permissible, I would continue to clear the Prison of all but the most violent remanded persons every week in between the Assizes, until conditions have returned to an acceptable level.

4 June 2001