Danger! Premier Robinson! Police Officers should not be Prison Officers

The August 25th 2020 announcement that the Police will take over the Prison is one that cannot be welcomed for a variety of reasons by any right-thinking person. So, I am sounding the warning, Danger! Premier Robinson, Danger! as the “Lost in Space” robot readily warned Will Robinson of the Danger that lies ahead from a mistake he is about to make. There is a clear conflict that is going to be caused within HMP by having Police Officers sworn as Prison Officers according to the United Nations Prison Incident Management Handbook, which acts as a guide to assist national prison authorities worldwide.

With the government being plagued by violent outbreaks at HM Prison, monthly spurts of Prison uprising, illegal trade of various kinds inside HMP, assault on the Prison Superintendent and most recently an outright takeover of HMP by the inmates, one could have easily have foreseen that the Prison was in urgent help to stem the upheaval. Instead the government ignored these warning signs, ignored the call of the Human Rights Commissioner to fix it, denied that these incidents were taking place and enlisted the assaulted Superintendent to down-play the unrest that was brewing. It is therefore no wonder that the upheavals at HMP became a clear and present danger to the Prison Officers, Staff, and even the Prisoners, so much so that the well-intentioned Superintendent has now quit.

Yes, of course control needs to be brought to HMP, but not by taking trained Police Officers off the streets of Providenciales and putting them into an environment that requires weeks, months and years of specialist training, with no training or vetting in place. Why do Prison Officers and Police Officers undergo different training? Because they are different professions, that require different skill sets and experience. The Premier ought to call upon experienced Prison Officers, albeit from different jurisdictions, but make sure that the Prison Officers called upon to assist are experienced, trained, and are going to be as safe as they can be and are going to make the situation better not worse. The Prison Officers need to make a difference to the situation at the prison, not exacerbate it or cause new issues.

The training involved and objectives of the two different professions (Prison Officer and Police Officers) are at different ends of the Criminal Justice System. Once a police investigation is concluded and a suspect charged, how can it, at all, be fair and just to have the same Police Officers in control of that person whilst on remand or for that matter convicted and serving a sentence? Does the Premier really want to open the flood gates to challenges to having a fair trial? What about confidential legal correspondence that is handled by Prison Officers and sent on behalf of the inmate to the Court or to their Attorney? It is madness to think that the little legal confidentiality that exists would ever survive and therefore that causes issues with the right to access a lawyer confidentially. Danger! Premier Robinson, Danger!

Obviously, in addition to the unresolved HR Issues the Commissioner pointed out years ago, there will be human rights issues in relation to privacy and confidentiality. Are the same Police Officers who are currently investigating active crimes and are witnesses in inmates’ trials yet to take place really going to be the ones in control of those inmates? How do you overcome that hurdle? Why can’t the Premier see that this shall breed contempt and only ruin any fragile relationship that still exists between inmates and Prison Officers? Where else in the world do local Police Officers contribute to running a small local prison? Danger! Premier Robinson, Danger!

Crime is rising at an alarming rate in the Turks and Caicos, especially gun crime and murder. This is not a time when our Police Officers should be taken from the streets, we need more Police Officers on the streets. Will we see more unsolved crime than we do already when these Police Officers are taken and put to work in the prison? While we are seeking re-enforcements for our already short-staffed Force, we are going to simultaneously stretch these officers even thinner? This approach can only be described counterintuitive.

The Premier said they will investigate corruption at HMP, how is any allegation of corruption going to cease when you put familiar, conflicted local Police Officers in control of HMP and put those Officers, and inmates, in a vulnerable position? Danger! Premier Robinson, Danger!

The main problem at the prison is there is no rehabilitation, nothing proactive for the inmates to do. No work experience, no solid education system, so how can the Premier expect these young men to be released model citizens or act as such when they are just left to stew in a terrible environment with inhumane living conditions? Fix the prison, don’t just put a makeshift, ramshackle band aid over it temporarily. The situation at the prison has been ongoing for years and has been ignored so now the time has come and it can’t be ignored or patched up anymore. Danger! Premier Robinson, Danger!

Mark A Fulford

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