Sun | Jan 16, 2022

Prison COVID-19 phone line still not up

Published:Monday | March 16, 2020 | 12:16 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Members of the Department of Correctional Services wearing face masks during a tour of the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston on Friday.
Members of the Department of Correctional Services wearing face masks during a tour of the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston on Friday.

Plans by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) to install a designated phone line to provide information about the health and welfare of wards and inmates in its care are yet to be implemented, even though it has suspended visits and the acceptance of food and care packages, starting today. The suspension, for an initial period of two weeks, will be subject to further review.

These precautionary measures are in keeping with the national effort to minimise the spread of the novel coronavirus, Santana Salmon, acting director of the DCS corporate communication and public relations, told The Gleaner last week.

Global infections are nearing 170,000 and eight cases have been confirmed in Jamaica.

When our news team called the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre on Sunday, we were advised that the designated phone line was not yet operational. A call to the South Camp Juvenile and Remand Centre elicited a similar response.

Salmon had given the assurance last week that the option would have been available as the DCS suspended visits to penal institutions.


“We have been setting up our phone line to ensure that relatives of inmates are able to call to check on their relatives to see what has been happening. We are in the process of doing it, to ensure that if we get to the point where we have to do restrictions or we have to limited visitations or completely restricted visitations, then relatives are still able to keep in touch with their loved ones behind bars,” Salmon said.

Pressed on the feasibility of a single phone line to receive calls from all across the island, Salmon advised that the DCS had an operations room that has direct contact with all institutions. It would be in effect during work hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said.

Salmon further advised that the DCS had been in preparation mode for COVID-19, with members of the medical unit hosting information sessions in penal institutions to provide updates and issue guidelines and protocols

“We’ve procured the necessary resources that we would need to ensure that we keep it outside the walls of our institutions, because you know that it’s a high-risk group in terms of it spreading behind the walls of correctional centres, so most of our efforts now are geared towards preventing it going into correctional centres,” the acting director of corporate communication and public relations declared.

However, during a stop at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre on Spanish Town Road during Friday’s media tour of correctional centres, it was observed that no hand sanitiser was available for use when entering the facility. This was unlike at the Spanish Town and Tower Street adult correctional centres, where hand sanitiser was available for use inside the gate lodge, with one mounted outside the gate at the latter institution.

Sources at Horizon and the Metcalfe Street Juvenile Remand Secure Centre also claimed that the amount of sanitiser and gloves were inadequate to meet their needs.

The DCS is yet to issue a statement on the protocol regarding the wearing of face masks and gloves, but officers at various institutions were observed during Friday’s tour wearing face masks.

In addition, some officers at the Tower Street facility deployed to work in the vicinity of the gate have been wearing masks to mitigate the effects of the dust generated by construction work.