The Department of Correctional Services at Fox Hill.
By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOR the third consecutive day, the majority of officers rostered to work at the Department of Correctional Services called in sick.
Senior staff members indicated that “festering” issues have been left unresolved by government officials for months.
Bahamas Prison Officers Association (BPOA) President Sgt Gregory Archer told The Tribune that officers are “fed up and tired” of the “blatant disrespect” by government officials and are falling ill due to the “strenuous” working conditions at the facility.
Sgt Archer stated that the government should do the admirable thing and sit down with staff to correct “the poor working standards at the prison”.
He said: “Instead of picking an unnecessary fight with the officers, the government should work to fix the issues we have pointed out. Set up a meeting, talk with us and discuss the ways to fix the problems.”
He added: “For months these problems have been known, instead of meeting with us and finding ways to solve these problems, they elect to bicker and point fingers.”
According to sources at the prison there are “a number of structural” problems. Sgt Archer said earlier this week that large portions of the ceiling in minimum security had collapsed, there is no running water in other sections of the prison and there is a mould infestation throughout the facility.
Sgt Archer said: “Nearly five months after our initial complaint and there still has not been a sit down meeting with anyone. You have to ask why is that the case, this is simply disrespectful.”
He added: “The staff of the Department of Correctional Services are being disrespected and pushed aside. This is our lives, the way we earn a living. That is being undervalued and overlooked.
“We wanted a formal meeting with State Minister (Keith) Bell or Minister (Bernard) Nottage and the staff has done all in our power to meet either of them to resolve the problems we have. There still hasn’t been a meeting.
“The government has made it a habit to tell us that there is no money to correct the problems we have but if you look around the prison compound there are a number of projects springing up. Where is that money coming from?”
In December officials at the facility commissioned a newly constructed 40-unit dormitory complex at the Fox Hill compound.
Earlier this week officials opened a new Security Intelligence Unit.
Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Patrick Wright stated that the creation of the unit cost the government roughly $50,000 to repair and refurbish an existing structure on the Fox Hill compound.
Sgt Archer said: “This is way beyond a prison issue now, this is way beyond a commissioner issue; this is now a governmental issue. The prison officers deserve the same respect as any other officer under the national security banner. The same as the police, the same as the defence force, the same as the immigration and customs officers. We deserve equal respect.”
The government has been busy in recent months enhancing elements of the former Fox Hill Prison after introducing the Correctional Services Act, which mandated major reforms in the nation’s prison system.
The Correctional Services Act provided for the renaming of the prison system to Bahamas Department of Correctional Services and the introducing of new leadership titles, including a commissioner, a deputy commissioner and an assistant to the deputy.