Statement from Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson in response to the article: Dodds Reports Spike In Assault Charges
Barbados Today in its February 13, 2020 edition on page 3 published an article under the caption “Dodds Reports Spike in Assaults on Guards” written by Mr. Emmanuel Joseph.
The article quoted extensively from a Prison Officer Nigel Hall who was described as the Treasurer of the Prison Officers’ Association of Barbados.
He was quoted as contending that nearly half dozen officers had been physically assaulted at the prison by inmates since early last year, and that they were not happy with the response to their concerns by the Superintendent of Prisons John Nurse, or Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson.
Prior to the article, I had knowledge of only one incident where a prison officer sustained an injury within the last year during the course of his employment.
That incident, which is referred to in the article, was drawn to my attention in October last year. It is correct to say that the officer, who was allegedly injured in January last year whilst attempting to intervene in a physical altercation between two prisoners now requires a medical procedure to rectify damage which resulted to his right leg.
On becoming aware of this matter, the Director of the National Insurance Scheme was contacted to see what if any assistance could be provided for the injured officer to assist with the cost of surgery for his leg which was estimated at $55, 000.
The NIS responded and indicated that the officer was receiving employment injury benefit allowing him to be eligible to receive reimbursement for medical and travelling expenses in relation to his injury. We were however informed that the NIS cannot advance any monies upfront towards his operation.
Further assistance was sought on his behalf through the Medical Aid Scheme at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital but the Ministry was informed that he did not qualify for assistance under the scheme.
In spite of this, I have urged the Ministry and the Prisons Service to find alternative ways in which the officer can be assisted financially in obtaining funds for the recommended operation.
I was not aware of any other incident before the publication of the article. Indeed, it is absolutely not true to say that I was informed at a meeting held with the officers of the Prison Officers’ Association on January 8, 2019, of their concerns over attacks on officers. The official notes of the meeting also do not reveal any such contention.
Since the publication of the article, I have also requested information on the other instances referred to in the article. This information reveals that the Royal Barbados Police Force is investigating two of the incidents and has charged an inmate in connection with one.
The inmate in connection with one other incident has been dealt with by the Superintendent, as he is authorized to do. Meanwhile, other matters are also being investigated at the level of the Superintendent.
I yet again urge the Prisons Officers’ Association to accept the Cabinet’s offer from April last year to appoint a prison officer for the first time to sit on the Prisons’ Advisory Board, so that grievances such as those highlighted in the article can be heard and addressed at that level. The Association has so far unreasonably refused to nominate any prisons officer to attend these meetings.
He stated that matters, such as that involving the injured officer, could have been addressed and resolved through meetings of the Advisory Board, rather than being publicly aired.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is urgently seeking out ways to address the issue of a lack of medical insurance to cover compensation for prison officers injured on the job.
I am informed that the management of the Prison Service has for the last five years been assiduously attempting to have its staff become a part of a Group Medical Insurance Plan for the protective services of Barbados.
However, I was informed that the required number of prison officers were not willing to enter into the scheme, claiming that the premium was excessive.
The Prison Service is at present actively pursuing alternative schemes, in order to find an insurance company which would provide the best coverage on the most reasonable financial terms, on behalf of the small minority of staff members who have expressed an interest in joining the programme.