Prison service recruits face mandatory drug testing

-scanners among extra security measures expected to curb smuggling

Gladwin Samuels

With the smuggling of contraband into the prison system at an “alarming” level, Director of Prisons (ag) Gladwin Samuels yesterday announced that mandatory drug testing of new recruits has recently been introduced, while additional security measures are expected to be put in place before the end of the year.

Samuels told reporters yesterday that the increase in the smuggling appears to be a result of collusion between inmates and prison service officials. He revealed that a quarter of prospective recruits were disqualified after they failed drug tests.

The prison service currently has a staff of 479 and efforts are being made to specifically recruit men to fill the existing vacancies.  However, Samuels explained that the rigidity of vetting has resulted in a difficulty in recruiting the required number of persons. “There is a vetting process. There has always been a vetting process but what we have done is work to increase the level of vetting that we are doing while the level of trafficking of contraband is at an alarming stage. This is an issue that has always been facing us, more so because of the close proximity of the built up population to our prisons,” he said. “The first test, the first time we advertised, some 93 persons took the test, 40 of whom were successful at the theoretical aspect of it,” he noted.

However, Samuels added that mandatory drug testing was then done. “Because it is the belief now that if you are smoking marijuana, it means that you have access to it and you are likely potential trafficker,” he explained. As a result, Samuels said 11 of the 40 prospective recruits were immediately disqualified. “We then went on and did an interview and we had a few more so out of the 40, 27 persons were sent forward for the detailed medical,” he added.

Those who are found to be medically fit to serve will then undergo 12 to 14 weeks of training for their initiation into the service.

When asked if low salaries may be driving prison officers to collude with inmates, Samuels said that from the inception officers are told of the packages and they are allowed to make a choice. “You have the option of coming on board or not coming on board and we would also say to staff that if for some reason you on board and you recognised the salary cannot fulfill your requirements, it is safe for you to leave with your integrity intact instead of becoming involved in corrupt practices and have to become a prisoner,” he warned, while saying that the necessary actions will be taken against those found culpable. “It is quite embarrassing, it is quite disturbing, to have to face these situations on a daily basis but this is not a situation whereby the prison administration is failing to act,” he added, while noting that despite vetting officers are allowing themselves to be sucked into the illegal activity.

He noted the smuggling and attempted smuggling of prohibited items, including cannabis, into the Lusignan Prison. “And I will say this because up to yesterday [Thursday] we tested it, the distance someone would need to be in order to throw a parcel, especially of those sizes, over the fence, which is 25 feet tall. It means that they have to be very close to the fence,” he said, while noting that there are two towers in close proximity that are manned at all times by six ranks. “So, the quality of lights available at nights in order to aid persons’ ability to see is very effective, so in order for persons to first of all be able to come so close to the area and then be throwing these parcels, I am forced to conclude there is some degree of collusion between those persons,” he explained.

Samuels said insights from previous investigations have revealed that officers involved in such activities are acting as a result of either financial promises or financial exchanges.

In an effort to combat the situation, Samuels said that additional security measures, including scanners and improved CCTV cameras, would be put in place by the end of this year.

“What we had the challenge with is because these scanners are going to be used continuously and especially for prison officers who will be frequently in and out of the prison, we had to comply with international specifications in terms of the amount of radiation that those scanners will actually emit,” he noted.

Thus far, Samuels said there was several submissions from international suppliers and also local companies. “Presently they are at the stage where they are trying to finalise what is best in terms of the radiation it will emit and that will also serve the purpose intended. Because we don’t want to go procure scanners and then persons will be able to pass with items that are concealed,” he said.

As it relates to the surveillance system, Samuels reiterated that the 2018 budget catered for the improvement of the CCTV system. “The system that we have at the [Lusignan] holding bay, which was recently installed…we would have utilised the resources we had available. We just got the approval for the spending of 2018 allocations, so within a matter of weeks the contractor will be on the ground to enhance the CCTV coverage at the holding bay,” he explained.

The surveillance system at the New Amsterdam Prison will also be enhanced while the Mazaruni Prison will see a full overhaul, Samuels noted.

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