The Department of Correctional Services at Fox Hill. (File photo)
By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas Correctional Officers Association said it is just a matter of time before chaos erupts at the Department of Correctional Services, claiming disrespect by the Christie administration has ruined officer morale.
BCOA chairman Gregory Archer suggested that National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage and State Minister of National Security Keith Bell have gone out of their way to belittle officers and their concerns.
On Monday, Mr Archer, flanked by a number of senior correctional officers, presented The Tribune with a number of issues of concern.
According to Mr Archer, delays in promotions, the lack of a clear succession plan and the inability to meet with the respective ministers are the most pressing issues.
“Stop disrespecting us,” Mr Archer said. “We recently had a major church service for the year, the minister, instead of bringing good news or needed news brought only rude remarks and insults.
“Morale is at an all time low due to the comments made by the minister. In terms of promotions, the process has been unbearable. His department, the Ministry of National Security has indicated that the hold-up is due to the slow action by the Department of Public Services.”
“We checked. Public Services (officials) are saying they just got the list of promotions and are only now processing them. Who is at fault here, it is hard to tell, but we have waited on these promotions for an extended period and despite the time wasted, we can’t find or get a credible answer about what is going on with this.”
Mr Archer said officials have told him and other officers that the delay in the promotion process came because many of the officers aren’t qualified to take on the new posts.
However, Mr Archer said the force now has its most skilled, educated and decorated pool of officers than ever before.
Mr Archer also serves on the Department of Correctional Services’ recruitment committee.
He told The Tribune that despite the best efforts of the committee nearly 70 per cent of the recruits that are brought through the recruitment process are done so under directives of politicians.
“If you want to be honest. That’s the issue here,” said Mr Archer. “Most of the unqualified persons are sent by politicians.”
Mr Archer said correctional officers have been pleading for basic tools to perform their jobs.
“Can you imagine having to face some of these hardened criminals with nothing more than pepper spray? And in most cases weak or expired pepper spray.”
“These new criminals are different, they don’t have fear in any case. That is what we deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
When asked if he has attempted to present his grievances to Dr Nottage, Mr Archer responded: “I have tried on several occasions to meet with him. We got to his office, he says he has an open door policy, I guess it just hard to get in that door.”
“To see him it takes time. You make appointments, he gives you the idea that he is concerned and cares about the matters you have gone on about for some time now and then there is nothing. It takes nearly 10 months to get a response on an issue. We want to follow the protocol, sit with the commissioner (of corrections) and explain in detail what the issue is. The commissioner has said for sometime now his hands are tied.”
Asked how officers are prepared to proceed, Mr Archer said: “At some point we aren’t going to be able to take this.”
Issues between the BCOA and senior national security officials have been mounting for some time now. In late October, the BCOA requested the disclosure of financial statements and audits related to the Department of Correctional Services over concerns of how the facility’s money was being used.
Attempts to reach officials in the Ministry of National Security were unsuccessful.
Calls placed to both Dr Nottage and Senator Bell also went unanswered.