Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Gay prisoners not denied access, says warder

Published:Wednesday | February 6, 2019 | 7:07 AM

A warder in one of Jamaica’s maximum-security prisons has rubbished claims that gay, bisexual and transgender inmates are being denied access to resources that could contribute to their rehabilitation.

The warder agreed with the findings of recent research that persons within the gay community are kept in a special block in prisons, but he said they are still able to access training opportunities, medical care, and privileges afforded to other prisoners.

“We have a section for them alone. Because of Jamaica’s mentality, you don’t want to cause anything and you don’t want any [to die],” said the warder, who did not wish to be identified on the basis of security concerns and because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

A study conducted by University of the West Indies lecturer Carla Moore found that prisoners who identified or were perceived to be gay, bisexual, or transgender were often restricted and missed out on opportunities for rehabilitation.

Moore came to this conclusion after interviewing the heads of 20 organisations that employ, advocate for, and create policies for persons within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Her study was conducted between April and November 2018.

The warder said that there are oftentimes violent feuds among gay and transgender prisoners and pointed to a recent incident in which he was almost stabbed as he tried to break up a fight between two inmates.

“We have to care for them, whether we like it or not, because if they have violent acts among each other, we are going to have to quell it,” he said.

Calls to Arlington Turner, chairman of the Jamaica Federation of Corrections, went unanswered yesterday.

Glimmer of hope

Prisoner-rights advocate Carla Gullotta acknowledged that while discrimination against gay and transgender inmates was evident, there is a glimmer of hope in the slow grind of rehabilitation.

“In Jamaica, stigma against gays is something everyone is aware of. In prison, inmates are in a special block. There is also the need to keep them safe, because they may be at risk because not everybody likes homosexual people,” said Gullotta, head of the lobby Stand Up for Jamaica.

Gullotta said her organisation has received grants, over the last two years, from the European Union and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, geared towards tutelage of gay and trans prisoners at discrete blocks at the Tower Street and St Catherine Adult Correctional facilities.

Intervention includes the distribution of books and the use of whiteboards in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate-level classes in small settings. But even though a couple of warders and inmates even participate in teaching gays in prison, the broader “project of rehabilitation is only partially available to gays”, as they generally do not engage in skill-training workshops because of security threats, Gullotta said.

“Some of them reach a good level of education, but when they apply for a job, being ex-inmate and homosexual, the chances of being accepted are very small,” she told The Gleaner Monday afternoon.

The prisoner-rights advocate was one of the individuals predominantly featured in Moore’s review of the prison system.

“My wish is that little by little, Jamaica starts to rethink its stance on discrimination. Jamaicans perfectly understand discrimination, and should be capable of being tolerant to others,” she said.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com