(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.