By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
INMATES at Bahamas Department of Correctional Services have claimed conditions at the facility are “desperate” as they fear not enough is being done to protect them from contracting COVID-19.
Apart from alleging expired and insufficient hand sanitizers were distributed to prisoners and that no supplies have been passed out to allow proper cleaning, they said BDCS is becoming increasingly dangerous as fights are breaking out over food because rations have been cut.
Describing it as a breeding ground for angry men, it was further claimed that rehabilitation classes for prisoners are lacking while prohibited contraband, such as drugs, are prevalent.
The inmates’ concerns were outlined in a letter sent to The Tribune and Minister of National Security Marvin Dames by a concerned citizen who said a prisoner dictated the issues to him on behalf of other inmates.
While he did not respond to the concerns yesterday, BDCS Commissioner Charles Murphy said much of what was alleged in the letter was “baseless”. He outlined COVID-19 prevention measures were implemented at the facility over a month ago.
However, he said he understood there could be frustration over lack of rehabilitation opportunities as a decision was made to shut down all activities at the prison.
As for drugs and contraband, Commissioner Murphy said “we deal with it when we find it”.
“We are again asking for help as our situation is desperate,” the inmates’ letter read. “We don’t know what your officers are telling you but we beg you to please come see for yourself, unannounced and inspect your entire facility; not just the parts they want you to see.
“Minister, from the COVID-19 virus hit The Bahamas, officers have yet to distribute any bleach or disinfectant supplies so we inmates can clean our cells and dorms.
“(The officer)… who is in charge of medium security refused to order any cleaning supplies from the store room.
“…Commissioner Murphy has been out to lunch and does not care what happens to inmates. He is only seen when it is time to inspect one of his construction projects.”
It continued: “We were given three 8oz bottles of hand sanitizer to share between 40 people per dorm. The sanitizers were made in 2004 and are sticky and lumpy because all the alcohol is already evaporated. Useless.
“One in 50 inmates have protective masks. Our daily food rations have been cut by 1/4 so fights are now breaking out over food. Our families have no means to put (money) on our commissary accounts but it doesn’t matter because the commissary shop is empty.
“Minister your officers who work and can drive around town for food are so heartless that they take plates of food from inmates and share among each other. If the inmate complains they are threatened.”
According to the inmates’ letter, the solution to every situation has been violence.
“This place is breeding angry men. Men who come in here for petty crimes leave worse than they come in. Inmates are having to fight and steal to survive. Your officers have no concept of rehabilitation or corrections. From the Commissioner down, the only solution is violence and stuff prisoners in Max (Security) like beasts.
“This facility is filled with drugs. I can personally point out officers who bring in drugs, liquor, cell phones. And before leadership cracks down on that, they would rather tear this place apart to find out the source of this email in order to prevent the truth from coming out. Medium Security inmates come out twice a week for exercise. Maximum Security inmates come out every two weeks. Why? Because your officers refuse to come to work. Every shift is short staffed.
“Please sir give this place some urgent attention like you do with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force. This situation is desperate. Please help us.”
Responding to the claims, Commissioner Murphy said officials have ramped up efforts.
These include officer and staff screenings at points of entry, strategically placing hand washing stations, PPE distribution to staff and supplying sanitisers to inmates as they are sent from the Ministry of Health.
He said deep sanitisation has also been done in working areas, housing units and dorms.
Incoming prisoners are also separately housed for quarantine for a period of 14 days and a separate facility has been selected in the event someone contracts COVID-19.
The Commissioner said: “We are practicing social distancing in as much as possible and we are adhering to the general protocols for COVID-19. The claims in the letter are baseless.
“The fact that I outlined to you what we’ve put in place basically cancels the claims in the letter.
“Just about every day routinely, I am on the ground checking and ensuring measures are being implemented and talking to officers. There are also people ensuring the correct protocols are being carried out.
“Not only that, the staff here are fully aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and the necessity to carry out these protocols so they themselves are supporting it in as much as I am pushing for it to be implemented.”
Regarding claims about rehabilitation classes, Commissioner Murphy said programmes are there but have been placed on hold due to the threat of COVID-19.
“I could understand their frustration that they can’t move about and do all they used to.”
He also urged inmates with information about suppliers of drugs and cell phones to come forward so that those people could be dealt with.