A section of the St Catherine District Prison in Spanish
Town. Violence broke out last week at the maximum security prison
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), is to take over
the security of the island's prisons, national and security minister, K D Knight, said
yesterday. Knight, who was speaking yesterday on Radio Jamaica's call-in programme,
Hotline, announced that soldiers will replace security guards at sentry boxes and will
also be responsible for escorting prisoners. He did not give a date when the JDF would
take over, and it was not clear last night what role the guards employed by Milex Security
Company would play under the new arrangements with the army.
This move comes in the wake of the interdiction of more than 800
prison warders who staged a sick-out in January to press for the removal of prison' boss,
Lt Col John Prescod, numerous prison breaks and mounting incidents of violence inside
the prisons. Soldiers have been assisting with security at the island's prisons since the
interdiction of the m6re that 800 warders earlier this year, but there have been
complaints that they were not providing adequate support for the warders who were left to
man the facilities when their colleagues were sent home.
Last week, there were clashes inside the General Penitentiary,
St Catherine District Prison, and the South Camp rehabilitation centre as fresh rounds of
violence broke out at the three facilities.
KNIGHT...soldiers to replace guards in sentry boxes
Last Saturday a press conference called to
declare a truce at the General Penitentiary turned bloody when two inmates were stabbed
and dumped in the middle of a press conference that was being presided over by Lt Col
Prescod, and had in attendance local and foreign journalists. There were six stabbing
incidents at the GP, seven at the St Catherine District Prison, while five inmates at the
South Camp Rehabilitation Centre were doused with acid during a fight last week.
Meanwhile, Lambert Brown, the University and Allied Workers
Union (UAWU) first vice president told the Obverver yesterday that he had "no problem
as such" with the decision to replace the present security company with army
personnel. "The militarisation of the prison is not the answer," he said,
"but that is government's decision, and we will work with the minister."
The 170 new trainees who were recently recruited for the prison
service will be under the command of the army when their training ends in August and
another 130 who will begin their six month training later this month will have the
rehabilitation of prisoners as part of their training.
High Court judge, Justice Karl Harrison, who was the sole
enquirer into last October's escape of 21 dangerous prisoners from the General
Penitentiary in Kingston, in his report submitted in January, recommended that the
authorities improve and enforce prison security measures in order to restore public
confidence in the custodial system.
"The laxness by warders and the breakdown of prison
procedures are some of the factors which are of grave concern and they must be addressed
immediately," Harrison said.