PORT OF SPAIN –– Security, which was increased around the Port of Spain state prison over the weekend, was part of routine exercises being deployed around the facility since the July 2015 jailbreak and not due to any impending “jailbreak”, the Ministry of National Security stated Sunday night.
Corporate communications manager of the Ministry of National Ministry, Marcia Hope, explained the situation on Sunday, after an increase in security around the Frederick Street facility coupled with widespread breakdown of telephone services in Port of Spain and environs and Chaguanas sparked rumours of a possible “jailbreak”.
Such rumours have been simmering in recent weeks. Rumours increased on Saturday when it was noticed that security around the prison was beefed-up. Security around the Frederick Street facility has been tightened at various intervals since the July 2015 jailbreak when three inmates broke out in a hail of gunfire and escaped.
Allan “Scanny” Martin was shot dead by police who cornered him shortly after the breakout, near the Port of Spain General Hospital. Hassan Atwell was shot dead in east Port of Spain reportedly by gang members. The third, Christopher Selby, gave himself up at the Barataria Police Station two days later.
Since then security has been heightened around the prison at various intervals. Sunday, the Frederick Street block around the prison was blocked at the corner of Gordon Street and surrounding corners. There was also a heightened mobile police presence.
Saying that the tightened security was part of exercises around the prison which take place from time to time, Hope added that authorities will not announce when exercises take place. But she acknowledged that the “sudden” increase in security fostered fears of a “jailbreak”.
Hope said barricades have also routinely been placed on the pavement around the prison for two reasons.
“One is to let the public know not to walk too close to the prison and another reason is to minimise any opportunity for people from the outside of the prison to throw anything into the prison, from over the wall.”
Prison authorities recently said items have been thrown over the wall of the Frederick Street facility including drugs, weapons and other contraband items secreted in the bodies of pigeons. Hope said Sunday’s prison security increases had no connection with the phone system breakdown in the capital and other areas.
TSTT Sunday issued a statement confirming the service outage affecting customers in the East-West Corridor including Port of Spain and Chaguanas. TSTT said this was due to a fibre cut, causing interruption to one or more TSTT services. TSTT stated the company was working to resolve the issue in the shortest possible time.
Sunday’s heightened prison security and the simultaneous phone system breakdown had also led to speculation and “jailbreak jitters” about whether the security had been increased due to a higher level of intelligence-gathering resulting from state “jammer” systems — and what any such intelligence might have revealed.
Last Friday in parliament, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, in the final debate stages of the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016 — which involves interception of communication to track crime, said under the PNM Government, cellphone “jammers” have blocked some 1.5 million calls, 126,000 SMS texts and 364 illicit phones in one prison.
Al-Rawi had said he had visited a jail and seen scanning equipment locate shaving implements, wi-fi spots, digital scales, cocaine, marijuana, bullets and a 22-inch flat-screen TV in death row.
On concerns about wire-tapping by the SSA, he said this can only be approved by the Commissioner of Police, Chief of Defence Staff and SSA head, and that old information must be destroyed.
Calling for greater accountability of national security operations, Al-Rawi said the National Operations Centre must be moved from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to the SSA.
The SSA bill must now be dated by the Senate this week. The Opposition UNC has however questioned Al-Rawi’s claim of cellphone jammers “blocking 1.5 million calls”.