Trinidad: Prison officers urged to stay on job following murders of off-duty colleagues

Vehicles pass by the Port-of-Spain prison on Frederick Street yesterday.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) Act­ing Pris­ons Com­mis­sion­er Dane Clarke is ap­peal­ing to his col­leagues not to aban­don their jobs fol­low­ing the mur­der of yet an­oth­er prison of­fi­cer.

Clarke made the ap­peal in a post on the T&T Pris­ons Ser­vice’s Face­book page on Wednes­day af­ter­noon, which was shared hours af­ter mem­bers of the Prison Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (POA) stat­ed their pro­posed move dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Pris­ons Sports Ground in Arou­ca.

While he ad­mit­ted that prison of­fi­cers were an­gry af­ter col­league Dar­ren Fran­cis was mur­dered in South Trinidad on Wednes­day morn­ing, Clarke asked them to re­con­sid­er their po­si­tion.

“I urge you to con­tin­ue with the job you have cho­sen. While you grieve you must re­ject de­spair and dis­qui­et,” Clarke said.

“We have to be strong for each oth­er be­cause it is on­ly by be­ing unit­ed that we can con­quer. Do not let the ex­em­plary work that our com­rades have dis­played to be all in vain.”

He ad­mit­ted that some mem­bers of the pub­lic did not re­spect their ef­forts.

“Our con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety may seem unim­por­tant and even ir­rel­e­vant to some, but on­ly the brave, ded­i­cat­ed and spe­cial men and women of the Pris­ons Ser­vice can tes­ti­fy to the num­ber of sac­ri­fices we make on a dai­ly ba­sis,” Clarke said.

He stat­ed that the jobs of prison of­fi­cers were es­pe­cial­ly dan­ger­ous, as they work dai­ly with the “un­ruly and law­less” of so­ci­ety.

“Our lives are threat­ened con­stant­ly and yet we chose to per­form our du­ties with­out fear or favour,” he said.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view on Wednes­day evening, how­ev­er, Clarke ad­mit­ted he had not re­ceived any res­ig­na­tion let­ters fol­low­ing the POA’s threat.

At the press con­fer­ence, POA pres­i­dent Ceron Richards said some of his mem­bers had tak­en the de­ci­sion to aban­don their jobs as suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have failed to deal with the is­sue of vi­o­lence against of­fi­cers.

“We have noth­ing more to say to the State. We are leav­ing. Of­fi­cers who walk out of this job, you have our fullest sup­port,” Richards said.

“If the State does not care, why the hell should we? They don’t care about us. Prison of­fi­cers are the sac­ri­fi­cial lamb.”

Richards went as far as to chal­lenge Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley and Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young to as­sume their roles for a day.

“Bring you (Row­ley) and your Cab­i­net to run this prison,” an emo­tion­al Richards said.

In ad­di­tion to Fran­cis’ mur­der, Richards claimed that two prison of­fi­cers were wound­ed in sep­a­rate shoot­ings, in­clud­ing dur­ing an at­tempt­ed rob­bery at a Na­tion­al Lot­ter­ies Con­trol Board (NL­CB) booth in Arou­ca. How­ev­er, when asked for ad­di­tion­al de­tails, Richards ad­mit­ted he was re­fer­ring to un­con­firmed re­ports. Guardian Me­dia al­so could not con­firm the re­ports with po­lice.

Through­out the press con­fer­ence, Richards was re­peat­ed­ly in­ter­rupt­ed by a large group of his col­leagues who sur­round­ed him. Those who spoke were clear­ly emo­tion­al over Fran­cis and their oth­er col­leagues’ re­cent mur­ders, as they all had tears in their eyes as they shout­ed their views.

“Why does my fam­i­ly have to won­der if I am not go­ing to come back from work?” one asked.

“You take a phone and you get killed for that. You (pris­on­ers) not sup­pose to have phones in jail,” an­oth­er said.

One of­fi­cer sug­gest­ed that prison of­fi­cers should take the is­sue in­to their own hands.

“The State will pro­tect them­selves and they are not pro­tect­ing us. We have to push back our­selves,” he said.

“Give us VSEP so we can move on,” one fe­male prison of­fi­cer sug­gest­ed.

Richards said the Gov­ern­ment had re­peat­ed­ly failed to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that would in­tro­duce stiffer penal­ties for threat­en­ing, at­tack­ing and mur­der­ing prison of­fi­cers, as well as in as­sist­ing in pro­vid­ing home se­cu­ri­ty mea­sures.

“We ask for se­cu­ri­ty at of­fi­cers’ homes, it sits down in Cab­i­net wait­ing on ap­proval. We ask for hous­ing for of­fi­cers liv­ing in high-risk ar­eas and the Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (HDC) ba­si­cal­ly say to hell with us,” Richards said.

He al­so ques­tioned the task force promised by Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith dur­ing a tour of the Max­i­mum Se­cu­ri­ty Prison (MSP) fol­low­ing the mur­der of Pris­ons Su­per­in­ten­dent Wayne Jack­son two weeks ago.

“They say a task force set up, what re­sults do we have?” Richards asked.

Con­tact­ed yes­ter­day to re­spond to the POA’s state­ments, Young re­ferred to a press re­lease on Fran­cis’ mur­der that was is­sued on Wednes­day morn­ing.

In the re­lease, Young said Gov­ern­ment is cur­rent­ly work­ing on strate­gies to ad­dress se­cu­ri­ty for prison of­fi­cers on and off du­ty.

“A num­ber of ini­tia­tives were im­ple­ment­ed and oth­ers are be­ing worked on by the in­ter-agency team set up to ad­dress the prison sys­tem. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of plans and the sus­tain­ing of these plans to sup­port the Prison Ser­vice are tak­ing place,” Young said.

He al­so not­ed that he is sched­uled to meet with prison of­fi­cers next Tues­day.

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