“For us the prison services are important services and we welcome and we value the work that all of you do each day, as part of the security framework of St. Kitts and Nevis”, said Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, during opening remarks at a meeting with St. Kitts and Nevis Prison Officers, last Wednesday (April 22) in Basseterre.
His visit to Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) followed a meeting a few hours earlier with members of the Fire and Rescue Services, as part of a round of consultations with the critical agencies of the national security system.
Prison Superintendent Franklin Dorset said he was honored to have the Prime Minister amongst them and took the opportunity to pinpoint a concern with regard the treatment of the prison services and the traditional lack of integration at the decision making level of the criminal justice system. “We often hear about criminal justice system. Some people say the courts, the police, the prison, the defense force. But in reality, when everything is done and said, they eliminate the prison…they forget. When they having any conferences and so on…not even an invitation. But I believe when it come around crime and the criminal justice system we can play a very integral part in any discussions that they are having.”
Whilst acknowledging the short time [of two months] that the Prime Minister has been in office, Superintendent Dorset highlighted the long standing infrastructural and security challenges faced by his department. “Now, we do have concerns, Sir and we do have problems. And I want to make it clear, Sir, that I’m not putting anything on you because I feel like you just came into office…so it takes time. I am one who believes that it takes time.”
Speaking in more detail about long-drawn-out functional constraints the Prison Chief said, “our present location is cause for a lot of concerns. We’ve been infested with a lot of contraband…cell phones…marijuana throwing over the wall on a regular basis, Sir. We, over the couple of years have been hearing about a new prison. My officers have always asked me about it so…I want you to think about it, Sir.”
Superintendent Dorset lamented the issue of fair share and “equality” in terms of “rank structure and salary” with other departments in the national security system. He also called for better health care for inmates. Present at the meeting was Prison Medical Officer Dr. Osborne who supported Superintendent Dorset in calling for a permanent nurse to be assigned to the prison to enable a more efficient and higher quality health care service.
“I appreciate that this is a high risk job and therefore you need to be rewarded properly and appropriately. I appreciate that you contribute in a very significant way to the maintenance of law and order in the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis and you should have your fair share of the resources which are available to the security forces”, said Dr. Harris in addressing the question of fairness and equality.
The Prime Minister also spoke frankly about the infrastructural challenges at the prison and the long delay in implementing a solution to an ever growing problem. “I believe for a long time we have had a conversation…a conversation regarding the need for more appropriate facilities being available for those who serve here as employees, as administrators and even for the inmates. And my government would wish to pursue those developments in an expeditious manner.”
The Prime Minister bemoaned the lack of commitment by the former administration and promised that the government of national unity will do things differently. “Perhaps maybe two years ago, it was said that we had identified a place for the building of a new prison. Perhaps over two years ago it was said that we had secured resources through EU [European Union] for the building of that prison. Regrettably, sometime during the course of time, it seems that there was a change of policy with respect to the new prison. And so you are still housed where you are now which is grossly inadequate for the purpose it ought to. So I can commit that the new Team Unity administration would work hard to deliver for you.”
When it was time to share their views, a number of prison officers addressed the need for greater accountability and a more enabling environment for career growth. They spoke candidly and passionately on a range of issues and concerns related to management, personnel, security, training and operations and demanded a “fair share for all”.
Prime Minister Harris commenced his closing remarks by thanking the officers for their candor and gave the assurance that his administration is fully committed to carrying out the mandate of the people. “We come to office on a mandate to do better for people…we come to government with a mandate to bring fairness to all of our people. And so we can say that those who serve in Her Majesty’s Prison are part of the large family of the country and we will not leave you behind…whatever have been the challenges of the past, we have now only the present and the future to work with.”
PM Harris ended by saying, “we will make the future better for all the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. That is the commitment which we take with great care and so we will work diligently as your servant to bring a better quality of life to you and for your families.”