Wed | Nov 25, 2020

245 new COVID cases; four inmates positive, too - Mask wearing not mandatory for prisoners

Published:Monday | August 31, 2020 | 12:23 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Minister without Portfolio Matthew Samuda (left) is shown the cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A. Devon Hall on May 2, 2020. Samuda toured the facility to assess coronavirus health and safety
Minister without Portfolio Matthew Samuda (left) is shown the cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A. Devon Hall on May 2, 2020. Samuda toured the facility to assess coronavirus health and safety measures.

Even as four inmates and one correctional officer from the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston have tested positive for COVID-19, the Government will not relent from its stance against the release of low-risk detainees in high-density prisons to curb the virus’ spread. That decision comes amid news Sunday night of a one-day record 245 COVID cases and a 21st death. Jamaica now has 2,357 coronavirus cases overall, 1,374 of which are active.

The position was reinforced by Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, who said that it was to the credit of the correctional services that the facilities’ defences against coronavirus infection had stood up until now.

Samuda told The Gleaner on Sunday night that the four inmates have been placed in isolation at a secure section of Horizon. Persons who would have come into contact with the infected inmates have been put under lockdown.

“The facts are, it’s just under six months, and there has been no spread or entry of the disease into our correctional facilities. It is unfortunate it has entered because we really have been fighting hard to keep it out,” Samuda said.

He said that while masks have been distributed in the prisons, the wearing of masks has not been mandated for inmates.

“Mask wearing is only imposed on all those who work in the facilities because it’s the people who work within the facilities who could have brought it in,” he said.

“We have curtailed visits since March 10, when the virus came on to the island, and we have been very careful.”

Samuda, who has oversight of the correctional services, said that both the courts and the Department of Correctional Services have limited visits. He disclosed that videoconferencing had been facilitated to allow for certain court appearances because of coronavirus concerns.

Several healthcare professionals have been trained to tackle COVID-19 at facilities, he said.

“The facts are that we have put in several systems we believe work, including using detainees to help take care of their fellow men. We provide the training, systems, and equipment they need to do so,” Samuda further said.

Carla Gullotta, executive director of prisoner-rights group Stand Up For Jamaica, expressed concern that scores of inmates may be vulnerable to the spread of the virus, citing the country’s long-standing problem of overcrowding in prisons.

New inmates are housed on blocks isolated from other prisoners, a Gleaner source said.

Gullotta has called for the Holness administration to release low-risk prisoners, especially juvenile offenders who have not seen their relatives in months and are prone to psychological problems.

STIFFER PUNISHMENT

The rights lobbyist bemoaned the complacency towards the wearing of face masks and observance of other health protocols and called for stiffer punishment of violators.

“My major concern was, in a place like prisons, where people are packed up and in a permanently overcrowded environment, the fact that people can enter means a huge risk for all of them,” she told The Gleaner.

“If somebody brings the virus in there, three days after, you might have 100 who catch it because there is no possibility to practise social distancing.”

Gullotta acknowledged that the imposition of tougher sanitisation measures, including guidelines for clothes to be regularly changed. However, she noted that the novel coronavirus was a particularly aggressive biological enemy.

Meanwhile, news emerged late Sunday that veteran People’s National Party politician D.K. Duncan tested positive for the virus. Duncan is reportedly isolating at home, while his wife Beverley Anderson Duncan, is under quarantine.

Duncan has been seen on the campaign trail on several occasions not wearing a face mask or observing social distancing.

Also, the University of Technology closed its Papine campus with immediate effect Sunday night because of a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Professor Colin Gyles, acting president of UTech, has advised faculty, staff, and students of the decision.