Wed | Oct 20, 2021

‘Man a drop down like wow’

Prisoners call on authorities to do more to prevent COVID spread

Published:Tuesday | September 28, 2021 | 12:13 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston.
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston.

Arguing that the situation is worse than the authorities are admitting publicly, prisoners at three of the island’s correctional facilities are demanding that urgent attention be paid to COVID-19 outbreaks at the institutions. Inmates at two...

Arguing that the situation is worse than the authorities are admitting publicly, prisoners at three of the island’s correctional facilities are demanding that urgent attention be paid to COVID-19 outbreaks at the institutions.

Inmates at two Kingston-based correctional facilities and another in St Catherine told The Gleaner that coronavirus transmission-prevention protocols are being relaxed and in some cases not observed, threatening the health of everyone.

An inmate at the country’s largest prison, located at Tower Street in Kingston, said that of his 10 years being incarcerated, these are unprecedented times.

“Right now, a di worst time fi deh a prison. The corona ya mash up in a di prison ya. Last week, about five man dem shub out inna ambulance fi go get oxygen. Man a drop down like wow. The prison boss and the head doctor affi get active and come down ya,” the inmate told our news room via telephone.

“We deh ya frass out. Bare people a drop down by corona. Two man dead, bout eight out a di hospital – gone fi oxygen. Every day bare man a drop drop down,” he continued.

An inmate who said he was once attached to the security forces said that the prison authorities have been tardy in addressing the COVID-19 situation, warning that it could lead to greater devastation.

“From last year, they just have one designated place for COVID patients. No medication. If you have COVID or it is said that you have COVID, they gonna put you in a section that have no mattress, just the cold concrete,” said the inmate at the Horizon adult facility.

“People who just get sentence and come in here, what really happen, they are placed on a ward and quarantine for 14 days or more. What they really do [is] they keep them there, and so if they don’t have COVID, they gonna catch it or pneumonia,” he said. “You can down there and catch fresh cold or flu because of cold floor.”

‘Seven-days no movement’

He said that recently two COVID-19-positive prisoners arrived at the facility and were placed with other inmates, causing chaos.

“They had to remove some and put them elsewhere, but it is handling sloppy,” he said, adding that the authorities had now implemented “a thing called seven-days no movement”.

Now, he said, they only can go to the medical area, tuck shop and the kitchen.

Inmates at the Spanish Town Adult Correctional Centre in St Catherine said that their days were no different from their Corporate Area counterparts.

“The prisoner dem weh deh Spanish Town sick out and nobody nah look pon dem … ,” the inmate said. “It start serious after one prisoner had it and dem put him inna isolation, but him have a warder fren and every time him warder fren come, the warder fren let him out and it [infect] the whole prison.”

Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, told the Senate last Friday that Jamaica was among countries with the fewest number of COVID-19 cases in its correctional system within the hemisphere.

When contacted yesterday, he said that there were beds in the isolation areas.

“I’ve seen the isolation areas and can state definitively that they have beds,” he said when contacted yesterday before advising that further questions be asked of Monique Smith-Pryce, communications director of the Department of Correctional Services.

Calls to her office were not answered.

Samuda told the Senate last Friday the death toll since the first wave of COVID-19 remains at five – two inmates and three staff.

To date, approximately 300 inmates from the adult correctional institutions and more than 300 staff members have been vaccinated.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, some 206 inmates and wards and 228 staff members have recovered from the virus.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com