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Makeshift weapons increasing prison deaths
published: Sunday | February 8, 2004


- File
Lt. Col. Richard Saddler tours the Horizon Remand Centre located along Spanish Town Road in Kingston

Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporter

FIFTEEN DAYS into the start of 2004, Norris Clarke, an inmate at the St. Catherine District Prison became the first fatality of an inside gang attack.

His death threw into a sharp focus an old problem that prison authorities have not been able to stem ­ the ease with which prisoners are able to obtain and fashion weapons from material around them.

Major Richard Reese, head of the Department of Correctional Services, said the long-standing problem of overcrowding has hindered his administration's efforts to rid the nation's prisons of the weapons.

"Our desire would be to eliminate it totally but because of overcrowding you are not able to offer the care and protection that you would want," said Major Reese. "Overcrowding breathes hostility among the inmates who solicit weapons to protect themselves."

HIGH INMATE RATIO

In addition, the prisoner-to-correctional officer ratio is considered a serious threat to security.

"We keep an eye on our inmate-to-staff ratio. That is why we are on a recruiting drive to increase the number of correctional officers and ensure that the vacancies are filled at a timely rate."

However, for security reasons, Major Reese said he could not divulge the current correctional officer to inmate ratio.

But, he did disclose that throughout last year, on average, one make-shift weapon was confiscated every four days.

The prison boss said, however, that weapons were not always smuggled past warders nor are they conventional knives and guns.

Bedding material, toothbrushes, pens the inmates receive in class and almost anything else they can get their hands on are being used as raw material to manufacture unconventional weapons.

Various sections of the correctional institutions such as the plumbing fixtures or the steel buried inside the concrete walls are also vandalised to make weapons.

"Most of them are improvised weapons where the inmates have used their creativity to make these weapons. A pen, for example, may be pushed into your lungs or in your back," said Major Reese.

Whilst warring with weapons is a serious concern in the male populated correctional centres, it is not a cause for concern at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre that houses women. The prison boss declared that during last year, only two improvised weapons were found.

And, they were milder versions of what the men arm themselves with. In describing one of the weapons found the Major said, "it was sort of a jammer with a wire".

"From where I sit and the information that is made available to me from the search team, the contraband level at Fort Augusta is almost non-existent," said Major Reese.

However, he said that there were cases at the women's correctional centre where members of staff have been assaulted. However, this sort of behaviour is not exclusive to Fort Augusta.

Compounding the problem of weapons being smuggled into the male-populated penal institutions is what could be described as "gang-banging" behind bars.

"It doesn't mean that the (violent) incidents happen in a cell. For example, you are having a conflict with me; I am released from my cell and you are released from yours and I and my friends rush you and gang you," explained Major Reese.

THREAT TO STAFF

According to Major Reese, another area of threat to security was the prison staff themselves.

"Last year we dismissed four persons for contraband and we have a case before the courts now and a woman who was arrested the other day at Tower Street for attempting to smuggle contraband."

Major Reese said plans are to be implemented to ensure that no more inmates suffer Norris Clarke's fate.

Plans in the pipeline include additional manpower through the hiring of District Constables and employing at least 100 more correctional officers who will be armed with the power of arrest. Plus, the expansion and further educating of the search team on methods of concealment and search techniques.

Additionally, Major Reese is planning to implement a scheme, which will see each correctional officer being assigned a number of inmates whom he would have to oversee.

This, he said, would aid especially in the correctional centres where there is overcrowding.

On February 5, 2004 the number of inmates in the system, which has eight adult correctional centres, stood at 4,338 ­ an excess of 608.

The overcrowded male populated penal institutions are the Tower Street and the St. Catherine adult correctional centres. The former was built to house 650 inmates but currently houses 1,734 inmates and the latter is housing 1,246 inmates, an excess of 396.

The Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre is also above quota, it was built to house 250 inmates but the population now stands at 289 inmates and three infants.

However, the Richmond Farm, Tamarind Farm, South Camp adult correctional centres, the New Broughton Sunset Adult Rehabilitation and the Horizon Adult Remand Centre are not up to maximum capacity.

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