Fri | Jan 15, 2021

Samuda: No mass release of prisoners if COVID-19 explodes

Published:Saturday | March 14, 2020 | 12:17 AMNickoy Wilson/Staff Reporter

The Jamaican Government will not be releasing low-risk or short-term inmates from correctional and remand centres even if COVID-19 reaches epidemic proportions, Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in Ministry of National Security, has said.

“No, no, no,” Samuda said yesterday afternoon, in responding to Gleaner queries while on a tour of correctional and remand centres across the Metropolitan Area to further assess the readiness of the facilities to mitigate the possible spread of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2.

Iran has temporarily released more than 70,000 prisoners amid the concerns that the novel coronavirus could spread rapidly. COVID-19 deaths there have topped 500 among more than 11,000 infections. Prisoners with sentences longer than five years have not been released. Sentences have been waived for some older convicts because that cohort of the global population is potentially at greatest risk of infection and death.

Samuda said that the national security ministry has made preparations for the worst-case scenario.

“Should the worst visit any of the institutions, we have identified isolation facilities to hold people if there are any intial signs,” the minister told The Gleaner.

“If the signs move beyond that, depending on numbers, they would have to interact with the public-health system, where we’d transfer them by way of isolation to the public-health system.”

The Horizon Adult Remand Centre, the largest such facility in the island, which has a capacity of 1,036, is currently below capacity by some 26 per cent.

However, the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, which should accommodate a maximum of 850 persons, currently houses almost 1,700 inmates. The St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, which can house 850 persons, is just under capacity.

KEEPING COVID-19 OUT

Samuda said that several measures have been put in place to mitigate the introduction of the virus into prison system.

“So, the first thing that we did, and DCS made the decision, was to curtail visits as of Monday (March 16). The fact is COVID won’t originate in the facilities unless it’s brought in either by staff or by visitors. Visitors we can control, staff we definitely can’t,” Samuda said.

DCS is the Department of Correctional Services.

Samuda said that the national security ministry was seeking to procure adequate volumes of hand sanitiser, masks, gloves and cleaning supplies to mitigate the possibility of transmission.

He also indicated that temperature scanners were also being sourced.

nickoy.wilson@gleanerjm.com