Politics

House: Prison work-to-rule continues

The seconded Commissioner of Corrections will not return to the crisis-hit prison service, it was revealed yesterday.

The news that Lieutenant-Colonel Eddie Lamb would not go back to the job came as the House of Assembly was told that Westgate prison had suffered a total of nine months without hot water.

However, Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, insisted it was “a false narrative” that the prison was “imploding” as MPs clashed over conditions at the West End jail.

Mr Caines said that the Prison Officers Association and the Government were “committed to resolving the outstanding issues”, which led to a work-to-rule being imposed at Westgate last month.

He added that a list of problems and their priority had been agreed with the POA.

Mr Caines emphasised the need for a specialist health unit to help officers deal with prisoners with mental health problems.

He said that mould problems had “deeply concerned” prison officers and that a cleanup had been ordered by Acting Commissioner of Corrections Keeva-Mae Joell Benjamin and an air-quality assessment was expected by the end of June.

But he added that prison officers’ demands for increased salaries and concerns about payments into the Government Employment Health Insurance scheme would have to go to arbitration.

Opposition MP Michael Dunkley said “any other facility would have been closed” over the lack of hot water.

The former premier and national security minister admitted that the nine months without hot water had not been continuous, but represented “periods” without water.

He went on the offensive over Colonel Lamb’s removal, telling the House: “Acting commissioners do just that; they act.”

But Mr Caines said it was “mischievous, if not criminal” to ignore improvements made in the prison service. Mr Caines said these included:

• A new industrial water heater and an additional industrial washing machine, to be in service by July;

• Upgrades to telephone and alarm systems;

• Replacement CCTV cameras installed, with extra cameras also in place; and

• The completion of security fencing at the prison farm.

Mr Caines added that security technology would be introduced to combat drones that have intruded on Westgate’s airspace, but he said it would be “unwise” to give full details.

The minister also gave details on the number of staff and inmates in the prison system.

The island had 166 people locked up this week, with 129 at Westgate, 11 at the Co-Ed and 26 at the prison farm.

There are 186 prison officers, with 32 positions vacant and an intake of 22 officers expected over the next two months.

Negotiations with the POA have been ongoing since Westgate staff took industrial action over concerns that ranged from security to infrastructure at the prison.

The prison is no longer on lockdown, but classes for inmates are still on hold.

Colonel Lamb was transferred to the post of project manager for the National Anti-

Money Laundering Committee in February last year for what said at the time to be a nine-month stint.

To read Wayne Caines’s statement, click on the PDF under “Related Media”