By ADRIAN GIBSON
CORRUPTION is rife at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, formerly known as the Her Majesty’s Prison, Fox Hill.
This weekend, a handful of very senior correctional officers met with me and left me with mind-blowing revelations about the conditions at the prison for both prisoners and prison officers and allegations of corruption, payola and an absolute lack of accountability.
I have always held the view that the Correctional Services Act, 2014 merely brought about a change in the name of the prison, in the way that its wardens are referred to and changed the title of the head of the prison from Superintendent to Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services. The current Commissioner is Patrick Wright and he is assisted by Deputy Commissioners Bernard Moree and Don Clare.
The prison remains primitive and inhumane.
The state of the prison speaks to the fact that we have miles to go in terms of the true creation of the rudiments of a civil society. Both the correctional officers and inmates should not be subjected to what amounts to less than reasonable conditions but clearly the prison is merely symptomatic of the huge infrastructural challenges throughout The Bahamas (eg schools, clinics, etc).
The senior officers I met with this weekend told me that they feel that the Commissioner and his two deputies have shown no respect for the senior staff in that they have not had a staff meeting in eons. They also charged that junior officers are not kept abreast of affairs in the administration and management of the prison as general staff meetings have not been held since former Prison Superintendent Elliston Rahming left to become the Bahamas’ Ambassador to the United Nations and Organization of American States in 2013.
“We have only seen structures popping up around the prison compound but we do not know what’s happening” one of the officers told me.
According to the senior ranking correctional officers — all of whom have served 30 years or more — “there is no love for the staff” and morale is at an all-time low among the correctional officers.
One of the seasoned officers exclaimed: “If the staff is motivated, they will automatically fall in line, but everything is at a standstill!”
The top managers at the prison alleged that rather than taking an interest in the affairs of the officers, the bigger concern appears to be an interest in how much money is produced on the prison compound and in constructing buildings.
“Security has been thrown out of the window! They don’t give a damn what’s going on and security should be paramount,” another officer stated.
According to the prison officers, hundreds of thousands of dollars is made at the prison every year, but there is no accountability or audited reports provided to the staff and senior managers of the prison plant.
“We can guess what is made at the prison, but we are not certain. We don’t know who banks the money made, who withdraws it or for what purpose the money is being used. We believe that the prison has more than nine bank accounts at various banks. We estimate that approximately two million dollars is made annually from the inmates’ commissary, food sales on the weekends and so on,” one source claimed.
He continued: “There are many officers who are financially hurting but they tell me that the Commissioner wouldn’t give them an audience. The worst part about that is that these are the same officers who, when they leave their houses to go to work, every officer is not guaranteed that he will come back home alive. That has already been proven.”
The officers said that from “a senior point of view”, the prison is not ready to become a correctional facility. They argued that the structure — which was built to accommodate 500 inmates and now houses more than 1500 — is archaic and that until “those people we send to Parliament build a structure to accommodate the new (Correctional Services) Act, then they could forget about the prison becoming a correctional facility.”
According to the officers, in the medium security wing of the prison, the roof leaks and the inmates suffer the brunt of the downpour, getting soaked in their cells. The officers apparently suffer the same fate as their offices also have sieve-like roofs.
“It’s so bad that everyone might as well simply stand outside when it rains,” quipped one of the officers.
I’m told that the toilets at the remand centre do not work. Every week, the officers stationed in that wing of the prison must oversee inmates as they fill up about ten eighty gallon barrels with water that would then be used to flush the toilets in the event that an inmate or an officer uses the bathroom.
“It is a disgrace how officers must work. It’s a disgrace how people are being treated. This is one of the reasons why the productivity is so low at the prison,” observed one of my sources.
I visited a client at the prison a few weeks ago. The air was permeated by the unpardonable stench of human and animal faeces (I also saw pigs on site) and urine. For days, it felt as if that odorous stench was trapped in my nasal cavity.
I was informed that the stench engulfs the entire compound and nearby houses when “the draft falls”.
The officers admitted that inmates at the prison live in inhumane conditions and that their cells reek of liquid and solid discharge from their bodies.
“The cells are overcrowded. We presently have five to six inmates to an eight by ten cell. Everyone has to make their own way when sleeping, but a lot of the inmates sleep on cardboard boxes. In maximum, many of the inmates sleep on the floor if there is not sufficient cardboard. Some of the cells have mattresses but that’s not sufficient. With winter coming, we won’t have enough blankets for the inmates” one of the officers stated.
He continued: “At present, there are no supplies for officers in the store room. Officers now have to buy their own shoes and uniform. The store room is supposed to have cloth, coveralls, shoes, canes, stripes, pips and so on. They are supposed to be free of charge. Now, officers have to wait for years just on cloth!”
Indeed, he is right. According to section 24 (1) of the Correctional Services Act “every correctional officer shall be provided with, and unless otherwise exempted by the Commissioner, wear uniforms and accoutrements as may be approved from time to time by the Governor-General. What’s more, 24 (4) asserts that if an officer damages his uniform and accoutrements performing his duties, such “repairs or renewal shall be at the public expense”.
The officers told me that every six months to a year correctional officers are to be issued with two suits of uniform and two pairs of shoes, but they noted that that hasn’t happened in a long time.
So, why are these officers being forced to pay for their own uniforms and when will they be reimbursed?
My sources allege that there are certain days when trucks with supplies such as lumber, electrical and toilet fixtures enter the prison’s gates and, sometimes, come on to the compound for five minutes and — without offloading — the entire truckload leaves the prison and isn’t seen again. They contend that there is no explanation or accounting for where such truckloads go or why.
“Everything that is coming out of the prison is sold, from the black dirt to the scrap metal from old vehicles. No one knows where it goes. We get no accounting. Not much comes into the prison without a kickback” the most senior among all the officers told me.
He continued: “In the government’s budget, they provide monies for food to be ordered to feed the prisoners. However, I have witnessed where that same food is being sold to prisoners and to prison officers. That was budgeted for by government, man! You see, the government doesn’t say what to buy for the prisoners or who to buy it from. For the most part, the prisoners are on a poor diet of rice every day along with either ground beef, corn beef and chicken may come once per week. Yes, they are criminals that did wrong (or who are charged, without conviction, before the court for committing with offences), but they need to be fed a proper diet. Not because they are there means that they must get hog food.”
According to these senior correctional officers, a board must be appointed at the prison to control all funds generated on site.
“We want to know what’s made on that compound on a monthly or quarterly basis and we want to know what’s spent for what! Someone at the prison is getting a kickback and using the government,” the officers alleged.
The officers informed me that when the government appointed the current Commissioner and his two deputy commissioners — all of whom are still deemed as only acting in the post two years after their initial appointment — “we didn’t know their identities up until minutes before they were appointed”.
“Neville Adderley, who is now retired, was the best man to lead the prison. We feel that Mr Rahming left the prison in ruins and our morale had bottomed out. But today, the top three officers are all lost. They do not seem to know anything about security and the mistake made in the appointment of leadership will be paid for years down the road. The most senior of us, the senior staff, we are about to exit,” an officer said.
The officer also said: “The current Commissioner knows that if he meets with senior or junior staff, there are many questions to be answered. He doesn’t wish to be questioned. The senior staff is not afraid of the Commissioner. At this moment, the best thing to happen to the prison would be for the government to remove him, to simply retire him. We feel that because Mr Adderley challenged Mr Rahming during his tenure, Mr Rahming may have recommended Mr Wright for the top post at the prison.”
The group of officers told me that the squad that graduated in 2006 is owed back pay in excess of $20,000 per person. As it stands, they say that “there has been no answer as to why these monies have yet to be issued.”
According to my sources, about 30 new toilets were recently purchased for the prison. They claimed that some of the toilets have “gone missing but no one knows where or why”. They have further alleged that more than 40 new air condition units (single units) were purchased for the newly constructed bachelors’ quarters at the prison, but they have disappeared without account. Though seemingly completed, the bachelors’ quarters are not yet opened and the officers assert that there’s no known timeframe for it to be opened and made available to prison staff. According to them, the bachelors’ quarters also will be used to house incoming squads of prison officers, keeping them on site for the duration of their training in much the same fashion as incoming squads for the Royal Bahamas Police Force. I’m told that the quarters also will be used to house new recruits from the Family Islands.
In 2010, the authorities installed composting toilets in an attempt to move away from the unsanitary practice of removing human waste by bucket, or “slopping”. The much-promoted compost toilets failed and that prisoners continue to openly urinate and defecate in slop buckets, share buckets of water for bathing and daily discard mounds of malodorous faeces in garbage bags and wheelbarrows.
I asked the officers about those toilets and where they are today. One officer responded: “The composting toilets didn’t work for the prison. They had to be thrown away and the worst part is that they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The officers also allege that the store room at the prison sells many items that are outdated or a few weeks shy of the best by date. According to them, these items are purchased at cheaper rates and sold for much higher prices.
“The pigs that you saw on the prison compound are supposed to be used to help feed the inmates. Whenever the pigs are sold, the officers must write that down in a receipt book. That money is then turned over to the Commissioner’s office,” one officer explained.
According to my sources, the prison is staffed by nearly 700 people. I was told: “There are officers posted all over and some officers are placed in areas where they are not needed. The focus should be security. However, the minimum numbers of officers are placed in the most intense areas, thereby working the officers to death. There was recently a transfer of officers in the prison. Some of the most dangerous areas, where dangerous criminals live, are short staffed. Officers were moved between medium security, the remand centre, intake, maximum security, minimum, the processing centre, the kitchen, the mechanic shop and some other areas that are not really defined.”
I was shocked to hear senior correctional officers tell me that, on any given day or night, there are less than 15 officers on duty in the maximum security wing of the prison. They assert that the officers complain daily about this, but have got no resolution.
“If you go there now and find more than 15 officers present, I’ll drop down dead!” exclaimed one officer.
He continued: “Out of the 15 officers on guard in maximum security, three to four of them must be sent to PMH based on the number of inmates in the hospital. Those three or four are taken out of the 15. Right now, maximum security has more than 800 inmates who are murderers, armed robbers and rapists who are either convicted or awaiting trial for such charges. Some of these prisoners are serving life sentences.”
“There are two blocks in maximum security that are dedicated to holding murderers only. One has about 18 cells and the other one has about ten cells. Everyone in those cells have murder or other charges or convictions on them!” he continued.
Chiming in, another officer said: “There’s a major gang problem in the prison. We have to keep them separate. The main gangs are Mad Ass, One Order and Fire and Theft. We cannot allow them to exercise together. We must know who is who and so we ask each inmate when he comes into the prison which gang he is in. If he lies, he will get slay! We must line them up with their gang to keep the peace otherwise slip-ups would cause us to have murders in there daily. The officers are under pressure and stressed.
“It’s like hell up in Harlem some days in the prison. Yet, we prison officers get no recognition. We get respect when we are travelling, but there is no appreciation for us in our country,” he noted.
The revelation by these senior officers that the maximum security wing of the prison is being overseen by a skeleton crew is shocking and downright inexcusable!
The prison officers said that they are in desperate need of “lead vehicles” to move the inmates from the prison to court.
One of them stated: “The transportation we have are worn out. About ten officers are assigned to taking inmates to court and they can tell you of how difficult that can be. Sometimes there are two loads of prisoners we must carry, one for the Supreme Court and the other set for the Magistrate’s Court. Most times we use the police to assist us with transport because our bus simply cannot carry them. We also don’t have desks and chairs and proper furniture to utilise.”
The officers have called for an internal investigation into affairs at the Department of Correctional Services.
I asked about the exposure of prison officers and inmates to infectious diseases. One of the most senior officers at the prison responded like this:
“We are fortunate to have not had a serious outbreak. We have had numerous occurrences of widespread scabies. There are some inmates who have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and AIDS and the officers dealing with them would be totally unaware. We would only know if an inmate has AIDS when we see sores and other noticeable signs.”
He continued: “Medication doesn’t get to the inmates in a timely manner or is simply not supplied. Any individual who comes to jail, for Jesus Christ sake, better be in good health! I do not think the government knows what corrections means because the prison remains the same as before.”
Indeed, there is no culture of rehabilitation at the Department of Corrections or Her Majesty’s Prison or whatever names the powers that be wishes to call it next week.
The fact that there is not any appropriate toilet facilities—for guards and inmates—is one of a plethora of unacceptable realities.
There are few experiences in life that compare to the visual and olfactory experience of scores of young men caged like wild animals.
Yes, there has not been an outbreak so far, but the potential exists. As it stands, I am told that a number of inmates have STDs, tuberculous, etc. Prison officers also have to operate in these environs daily and then return to their families. And, to be fair, they too can bring such diseases into the prison. How do you rehabilitate someone in that kind of environment? Where are the rehab programmes? How well equipped is the library? What happened to the manufacturing facilities that existed at the prison, e.g. block making?