Antigua: Cabinet bows to prison pressure

Antigua: Cabinet bows to prison pressure

As prisoners complain of inhumane conditions and threaten riot action, Cabinet has agreed to make available “all necessary resources” to address the situation.

Summoned to Cabinet on Wednesday, Prison Superintendent Albert Wade reported afterwards that the 77- room Nurses Hostel at the old Holberton Hospital would be converted into a detention centre for remanded inmates.

Further, he said, a contractor was already in the prison to begin work on building additional cells and eradicating “night soil” from the 1735 facility, which, he said, is now housing 387 inmates despite being built in the 18th century with a mere capacity of 150.

Wade admitted that with over 140 inmates on remand in a 12-cell block, at least one cell was housing 15 inmates despite being suitable for no more than six and having only two single bunk beds.

He told OBSERVER media “the Cabinet has committed to provide all necessary resources to address the situation at the prison and to get it dealt with as soon as possible.”

The government promised that starting yesterday over the next four months, pit latrines will be replaced with proper toilet facilities and said that infrastructural development has already begun.

When completed, the facility is expected to be improved, but sadly, according to Wade, not as improved as it could be.

He said, “Not quite up to international standards as we have seen in some penal facilities”.

As a short -term solution, inmates will be swabbed to find out whether or not they have contracted any sort of infection, including MRSA.

Wade was sympathetic to claims by inmates that the conditions of prison cells are unbearable.

The conditions have been reported to be so bad that two prisoners have contracted the methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria while several others are suffering from untreated chicken pox.

Wade said, “It will be safe to say that the conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison, as I’ve always articulated is less than humane.”  He even admitted that as many as 15 inmates are kept in 15 x 15 feet cells in the remand section.

The prison superintendent’s comments come in the wake of calls allegedly made by inmates inside HMP to OBSERVER radio’s Snake Pit programme on Tuesday night, threatening to meet authorities with opposition, over an ongoing health crisis there.

Three men, who claimed to be inmates at the prison, of which at least one Wade said he knew, said, nothing is being done to rectify the awful conditions they live in.

“No medication, you have to call the people outside and make them bring medication for you”; “Arwe up here ah dead, arwe need help”, one of the prisoners told OBSERVER media.

The men said no one is safe inside the prison and claimed that the government is covering up the truth.

Another prisoner claimed that the number of inmates diagnosed with chicken pox had not reduced since the virus was detected.

“Right now it’s been 21, since October the count always above twenty,” he told OBSERVERmedia.

But Wade said while overcrowding in the prison can be blamed for the continued cases of chicken pox and the MRSA bacteria, there are discrepancies in prisoners’ accounts.

“Presently, we have 14 inmates in quarantine with the chicken pox, not 21 and a total of 100 have so far contracted chicken pox”, he explained.

Wade also said that prison officials are in negotiations with at least two pharmacies to supply them with medication for the prison.

“We have some outstanding vouchers for some of our suppliers and so there is a shortfall in terms of medication at the facility, which we are trying to address presently “he said.

In the meantime, family members are the ones assisting with purchasing medication for the inmates.   He said, while he is not totally satisfied with the level of care inmates receive, “their families understand the plight and families do come forward and provide the medication.”

Since the chicken pox outbreak began in November 2015, church service at the prison has stopped as infected inmates are being detained in the facility’s chapel.

The inmates claimed that prisoners are vomiting green mucus. And are covered in rash and open wounds.  It was also reported that only one doctor tends to the hundreds of inmates at the jail once a week.

And although the prisoners have seemed to reach their breaking point, Superintendent Wade said, he is not overly concerned about any potential riot which was hinted at by inmates.

Most inmates he said are very cooperative: “The majority of the inmates are peaceful; they appreciate the effort that we have been trying to make in restoring the prison to what it was before we had the outbreak of the violence.”

Sufficient food was also a concern for inmates, who said they are not being given enough to take their medication.

Wade, who described feeding the over 300 inmates as a chore, agreed with the inmates that indeed “the food is inadequate”.


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