~ Dennis: Guns in prison unacceptable ~
POINTE BLANCHE--Authorities are introducing a package of tough measures at the Pointe Blanche prison as part of efforts to crack down on security breaches there.
The measures were announced Wednesday by Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, who condemned the discovery of two firearms in the prison during searches last week.
"The finding of guns in the prison that seemed ... destined to settle scores with inmates is a breach too far. ... Those same guns could have been used just as easily and turned against guards themselves endangering their lives," Richardson said during the Council of Ministers press briefing. "This is absolutely not acceptable and justified."
The measures include increasing multiple random controls at the prison by a multidisciplinary team of persons from the police, Customs, Voluntary Corps VKS and prison guards. The Marechaussees and the marines also will be approached to join in the controls. Richardson said this was being done to have independent control of persons entering the prison, including staff, suppliers and visitors. Multiple controls of prison cells also will be conducted.
"Because the prison is understaffed, we cannot carry this out sufficiently and will make use of all law enforcement agencies to help with these controls. ... As the organisation and integrity of the prison increases then we can stop making use of the different law enforcement agencies, but now this is the only option that we have," Richardson said.
The National Detectives Unit also has launched a thorough investigation into the security breach at the prison. Richardson said the assistance of "other countries in the Caribbean" had been requested for this investigation. The person or persons who are found guilty of the security breach will be dealt with, as "this is not just a matter of administrative dismissal, I consider it a criminal act as well," Richardson said.
The security clearance of prison personnel by the National Security Service is another measure being pursued. The minister said this initiative had not been done in the past.
There also will be increased camera surveillance in and around the prison, as well as improvement of the physical barriers around the prison to prevent persons from "throwing objects" onto the prison grounds.
Additionally, authorities will improve the "jamming of mobile telecommunication systems" at the penal facility.
Authorities are also looking into the possibilities of moving "higher risk" inmates to the Netherlands. "If this is possible for Belgian and Scandinavian nations, it should definitely be possible for our country within the Kingdom," Richardson said. This will be paid for by the Justice Ministry budget.
An investigation will also be carried out into the high level of absenteeism among prison guards due to sickness (see related story).
A comprehensive and independent audit of the facility's security, security procedures and the actual functioning of the prison and security system also will be conducted and reviewed. The equipment used for security measures will be part of this review. Richardson said authorities expected concrete recommendations from this audit to improve the overall security at the prison.
"These are the first measures being taken based on the situation at the moment. Some can be taken immediately; some are short-term measures and are some long-term measures. The audit would probably give recommendations for further improvements of the security in the prison," he said at the press briefing.
He told reporters that one could not escape "the stark reality" that a serious breach of security had taken place at the prison, which he said conjured up images of breaches of integrity by some or someone with no thought about the safety of colleagues.
Lenient days are over
In a press release on the same subject issued just after midnight Tuesday, the minister said an emergency meeting on the situation had been held at the prison last week Thursday after an inmate was injured seriously and illegal items such as firearms, other weapons and mobile phones had been found. Richardson was quoted as saying these incidents "will not be tolerated. ... Nobody is above the law, so all persons will be checked thoroughly at all times when they enter the prison."
The release said several concrete actions, including the forming of a multidisciplinary team of different law enforcement agencies such as the Police Force, Customs, VKS and prison staff would be set up to perform frequent and unannounced checks of both cells and inmates to make sure weapons, phones and drugs no longer would be available inside the institution.
"To prevent weapons and other illegal goods coming into the prison, existing controls for all those who want to enter – visitors, guards and others – will become stricter," the release said.
The release also reported on a meeting held with the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, it has become clear that some of the guards must be actively or passively helping the smuggling of arms and other stuff into the prison. In doing so, they endanger the lives of their colleagues and the inmates. This is crazy and will be stopped," Richardson said in the release.
"The National Detectives will do a large scale investigation into the recent incidents and I may even ask my colleagues in Oranjestad, Willemstad and The Hague for extra detectives to give assistance to that investigation. The Prosecutor's Office is looking into that right now."
He said measures would be implemented to check the guards who report ill all the time and therefore add to the problem of an understaffed prison facility. "Management perhaps has been lenient in the past, but those lenient days are over," he said in the release.