Prisoners at Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds eligible for release have returned home; phone calls between inmates and loved ones have resumed; and contact with them and their attorneys is being facilitated in urgent situations.
Overall, said Minister of Home Affairs, Information, and Public Affairs, Wilfred Abrahams, “some level of normalcy is returning to the prison”.
Speaking during a virtual COVID-19 update and press conference, the Minister said those scheduled for release were placed in the quarantine section and allowed to reunite with their families, having completed their 14 days of quarantine.
Noting that one person returned home today, Mr. Abrahams said another inmate, who had already cleared quarantine, was scheduled for release on January 28.
He added that phone calls were restored, and urged relatives to visit the Barbados Government Information Service’s website for instructions on how they could credit their incarcerated loves ones’ accounts through the mMoney platform.
In addition, the Minister said some inmates were allowed outside to exercise in a controlled manner, to keep the risk of infection to a minimum, and to enable contact tracing, if the situation warranted.
However, he said virtual visits remained suspended at this time, and they would return when authorities were in a better position to have them facilitated.
Mr. Abrahams attributed this to the fact that there were still 99 prison officers on sick leave at this time, resulting in essential services only being provided.
He explained that out of a complement of 350 prison officers, almost a third of them were on sick leave, and the situation placed “incredible pressure” on the remaining officers who were on duty.
“So far, out of those who have been quarantined prison officers, a total of 147 prison officers have reported back to duty. Of the set who was initially in the prison during the lockdown, all but 10… have gotten their results. Some would have tested positive,” he said.
The Minister added that those who were released from quarantine were given a “few days off” to spend time with their families, before returning to work.
“The first one is due to report, either tomorrow (Sunday, January 24) or on Monday (January 25), to be reintegrated into the shift system at Dodds,” he said.
Mr. Abrahams commended the Barbados Defence Force and the Royal Barbados Police Force personnel for “stepping up to the plate” and assisting with supplementing the numbers at the prison, particularly in the area of perimeter security.
“Our ability to return to normal is governed by two things. Our management of the COVID situation in the prison now, and going with the protocols that served us well in this stead and helped to reduce our numbers, and the shortage of officers,” Mr. Abrahams pointed out.
However, the Minister said he anticipated the situation should improve by next week with more prison officers returning to duty.
“I look forward to a near filled complement so that we can start to put back some activities that would ease some stress on the officers there, and on the inmates,” he said.
The Home Affairs Minister extended best wishes for a return of good health to prison officers on sick leave, and the 13 who were still in isolation.