In the heart of the Dominica State Prison, Assistant Superintendent Handel Joseph reveals the stark reality of an institution grappling with numerous challenges that stretch the limits of its resources and capabilities. With a current population of 261 inmates, comprising 258 males and three females, the prison faces a myriad of concerns that demand urgent attention.
As reported by DNO, at the recent close of the September session of the High Court, Joseph presented the Prison Delivery report to the Court in which he stated among the pressing issues are the alarming number of inmates on remand as well as the mentally ill population standing.
“At present 258 males and three females make up the prison population. This represents 98 males and one female from the Magistrate’s Court and 30 males and one female from the High Court.” Included in the prison population are 24 foreign nationals namely, 14 Venezuelans, three St. Lucians, three from St. Martin, two Haitians, one Trinidadian, and one Italian. Fourteen of the foreign nationals are committed whilst 10 are on remand.
“The remand population which currently stands at 131 includes 127 males and one female waiting trial for the conclusion of their Preliminary Inquiry at the Magistrate Court and three awaiting trials at the High Court,” Joseph revealed.
Among them, 23 have endured more than three years of waiting for their cases to be heard, with the longest period of remand reaching a staggering seven years. The Assistant Superintendent expresses deep concern over the prolonged time spent on remand, emphasizing the impact on both inmates and the efficient operation of the institution.
In his opinion, more “expeditious” trials at the Court will greatly resolve this issue. Equally troubling is the presence of 46 mentally ill inmates within the prison’s walls. Joseph highlighted that the lack of frequent visits from the psychiatric
unit poses a significant challenge, impacting the well-being of both staff and inmates.
Housed with other prisoners due to space constraints, mentally ill inmates become unwitting instigators of conflicts, jeopardizing the safety and security of everyone within the prison, he averred.
“We have [a] once-a-month visit from the psych unit to assess inmates who are mentally ill but we are trying to increase those visits which has not happened. We have prison staff who are assisting but they are not trained professionals.”
He continued, “Our available housing is not sufficient to house all the prisoners we have. We do not have available space so we have no choice but to house the mentally ill prisoners with other “normal” prisoners. We have many examples of inmates leaving their cells and going to work and upon their return, their items are tampered [with] or stolen by a mentally ill inmate which oftentimes leads to fights.”
In response, High Court Judge, His Lordship Justice Colin Williams, questioned, “What are 46 mentally ill people doing in a prison, are you a hospital?”
With only five of the 46 mentally ill inmates serving sentences, the majority are on remand, the Assistant Superintendent further emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to mental health within the prison system.
The completion of a Buffer Zone and Remand Center, essential projects for enhanced security, has also faced delays.
According to Joseph, this delay is exacerbated by the persistence of unauthorized articles finding their way into the prison compound, facilitated by perpetrators cutting through the fence.
Joseph expresses optimism that the completion of the new fence, coupled with additional security measures like cameras, will curb this issue and fortify the prison’s security.
The Assistant Superintendent further sheds light on the struggle to provide nutritious meals to inmates, citing the hindrance caused by the untimely payment of suppliers. Despite efforts to improve the quality and variety of meals by using produce from the prison farm, financial challenges persist. Joseph underscores the need for sustained financial support to enhance the overall nutritional well-being of the inmates.
While the prison continues to face numerous challenges, there is hope on the horizon. Additional staff is anticipated to alleviate the strain on current resources, and ongoing virtual training sessions aim to enhance the skills of existing personnel. Additionally, concerning rehabilitation programs for inmates, training in sewing and mechanics is currently in place in an effort to provide them with a skillset upon their release.
Joseph also noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic, visitation has resumed to two days per week: Wednesdays for remanded inmates and Saturdays for the convicted inmates whilst appointments are made for minors.