By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FRESH from serving 14 days in jail for refusing to pay a $2,000 fine for contempt of court, a lawyer is warning of an impending health crisis at Her Majesty’s Prison.
Geoffrey Farquharson, on his release, expressed his concern over the health hazards being endured by inmates and prison officers. He believes the conditions could affect the public given prison officers have families with whom they interact every day and inmates go to court, a public place.
Drawing on his observations and information gathered from his time in jail, Mr Farquharson questioned how the Bahamas can celebrate independence “knowing that these conditions are what we impose on innocent people waiting to be acquitted and on the prison officers who have done nothing wrong at all.”
“More than 20 years ago, the chief justice indicated that the conditions at the prison were inhumane and were a disgrace to the country. This is the former chief justice of the Bahamas, Sir Burton Hall, who in several of his judgments, referred to the fact that the prison conditions were intolerable and had to be improved.”
“But since the time that he made those remarks, conditions in the prison have worsened and the number of prisoners in prison have almost doubled,” he added.
The lawyer claimed there were a number of cracks in the walls, up to 11 persons were sharing a single cell in the maximum security section with no beds and that the food for the inmates at the prison were prepared next to garbage bins.
The lawyer also recalled the presence of faeces in the maximum security section which had attracted roaches, rats and pigeons.
Prison Superintendent Patrick Wright could not be reached yesterday for comment about these concerns.
“Everybody is aware of that but what people don’t know – and they talk about slopping out in the prison – what they don’t realise is that once those buckets have been filled with urine and faeces in the cells, they have to be manually taken by prisoners out into a court yard where they are poured down a hole,” the lawyer said.
“Those buckets of waste, every morning, are poured down a hole by prisoners bare-handed, with no protection whatsoever, immediately next to a dormitory. That process goes on for three or four hours it takes to pour all of that mess down in holes in the morning.”
In May, nearly half of the prison officers at Fox Hill did not report for duty to demand action from the government over the unsanitary state of the prison and the resulting health implications. They demanded that the prison be closed down so that a massive clean-up could be done as a matter of priority. They have since started the cleaning process themselves.
Last month, Justice Carolita Bethell received a letter from prison authorities describing the conditions that two men convicted of attempted armed robbery and attempted murder of a senior police officer had to endure while on remand, such as not having beds.
The judge, in the sentencing of Maurice Armbrister and Excel Josey, said that it was “unacceptable in a civilised society” that the same prison conditions complained of in 1999 “endures today.”
Justice Bethell also echoed the sentiments of past judges that “most people will find it distressing and degrading if they spent a day in these conditions that these men endure. I echo this because these young men will one day re-enter society. Hopefully they will be rehabilitated and reformed and retake their place as better human beings,” she said at the time.
On Friday, Mr Farquharson asked: “How can we as Bahamians, celebrate independence knowing that these conditions are what we impose on innocent people waiting to be acquitted and on the prison officers who have done nothing wrong at all or of whom it is suggested they have not done anything wrong? Can that possibly be correct?”
“The government has just spent something approaching $300 million on boats for the Defence Force, one of which,” he claimed, “already had four failures since it’s been received and will shortly be laid up in the harbour like all the rest of the Defence Force boats.”
“I believe that the government would be wise to find a similar sum of money to improve the existing prison and to build a new prison,” the lawyer said.
Days before his arrest, Mr Farquharson told The Tribune he was “terrified” of going to jail, but added that he intended to take a stand on principle by not paying the fine ordered by the court.
After his release, he had no complaints about his own treatment at the prison, but said the experience had been “extremely useful”. “I got to see first hand what my client complained of on so many occasions and what the prison officers endure working in that place,” he added.
His 14-day sentence was an alternative punishment to the $2,000 fine for his behaviour during last year’s high-profile trial into the murder of Marco Archer during which his client, Kofhe Goodman, was convicted and eventually sentenced to death.
Mr Farquharson is contesting the contempt ruling against him.