SPECIAL REPORT: Prison officers take to the picket line, give vent to their grievances, and call for release of ‘buried’ report on operations

The worries of the Browne Administration continued today, October 17, as prison officers took their grievances to the picket line to protest the conditions under which they work.  They also called for the release of a report which capped an inquiry into the Prison’s operations and for the Permanent Secretary to be removed.

The protest, which was staged outside the compound of His Majesty’s Prison, targeted the lack of telephones; drinking and running water; toilet paper; and air conditioning, as well as the absence of security or protection for officers.

The officers carried placards which stated, “Compensation for officers who worked at Crabbs;” “No more pit toilet;” “Time for a raise of pay;” and “We need a leader, not a yes man” – expressing their disgust and displeasure at the lack of leadership and interest in the penal facility.

REAL News Correspondent George Wehner visited the scene of the protest and spoke to several of the disgruntled officers.  

They complain that police officers are being paid a monthly stipend of $500 to search prison officers and prevent contraband from entering the facility; and yet, they say, items are still making their way onto the compound via the back of the prison wall.

Meanwhile, a female prison officer is accusing Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, the Minister responsible for the Prison, of failing to address the conditions to which staff are subjected and, essentially, of having lied to them for years.  

The very angry and vocal officer is also calling for the authorities to release the findings of an inquiry into the Prison that was commissioned more than two years ago.

She alleges that the Prime Minister has a copy of this report, and that it might have been suppressed because it contains damning information about a law-enforcement officer.

The workers also spoke bitterly about their meager salaries; the disrespect meted out to them and to the families of inmates; about having to go to the Antigua Recreation Grounds to relieve themselves; and the lack of shower facilities at the prison.

Further, they are very resentful about the appointment of a particular counselor, and they report that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the prison chapel has not functioned to offer the inmates spiritual guidance.

Unsanitary, vindictive, and manipulative are just a few of the adjectives the officers use to describe the Prison and those who head the institution, and they claim that any corruption taking place there comes from the top.

Meanwhile, a female prison officer has some sharp words for Prime Minister Gaston Browne about the money he was dishing out on the weekend while the Prison is in need of urgent attention.

In the meantime, as the officers are vowing to continue their action until their demands are met, Minister Benjamin says work is taking place at the facility in a strategic systematic manner.

He claims the strike might have been staged as a result of the new systems put in place, which, thus far, have been successful. However, Benjamin says the Government will not be deterred from ensuring that the prison is safe and free from illegal activities.

According to him, salaries and other concerns will be addressed by the end of the year when other government workers are expected to receive an increase.