President of the Barbados Prison Officers’ Association (BPOA) Trevor Browne Wednesday delivered a scathing attack on Government and the prison administration for their treatment of officers at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds.
In an emotional speech to an audience which included Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, Browne painted a picture of a team that was being neglected and ill-treated, and an administration that simply did not care.
So strong was the BPOA head in his address at the annual general meeting at the prison’s staff headquarters that a clearly embarrassed Brathwaite, claiming that he had been put on the spot, asked journalists who had been invited to cover the meeting, to leave the room, explaining that he could not be candid in his response in the presence of the media.
Seemingly still upset after addressing the prison officers, the Attorney General exited the building into a waiting vehicle and hurriedly drove off without entertaining questions from shocked media personnel who were waiting outside.
What appeared to rattle Brathwaite was Browne’s graphic description of the sources of frustration experienced by the prison officers, including staffing issues and appointments.
“As it stands there is a complete lateral level of middle management within the prison where there is virtually no appointed officer, if any at all. Further, as of 2015 our information indicates that there are 75 Prison Officer 1 positions in existence, 35 established and 40 created. To my recollection there are fewer than ten permanently appointed to these post,” he said as the Attorney General listened.
Browne spoke of temporary officers who were being paid late repeatedly and were being humiliated and abused whenever they asked about their wages. One such officer, he said, was made to sleep on a “mud floor” because he had no money to pay for accommodation.
“We had a situation where an officer was living at a relative on a mud floor [because he was not being paid]. The approach to paying subs [temporary officers] is disrespectful and it is uncaring. I wonder sometimes if the Superintendent [of Prisons] is aware of the treatment that the subs get when they go to enquire about money that they should be paid. Sometimes expletives are thrown at these officers.”
The BPOA president said the problems with remuneration were not limited to substitutes, as officers acting in senior positions were not receiving commensurate payment.
He charged that a number of officers who had acted in senior positions for ten months had not been paid, ‘and if so, sporadically”, for the extra responsibilities that they had taken on, and he questioned why the correctional facility did not live up to its mission of care and humanity.
“I am claiming on behalf of the mentioned officers that their labour has been subjugated. The prison is one of the main pillars of law enforcement and its mission statement emphasizes care and humanity to its charges. Why is this mission not applicable to prison officers?”
The association head went as far as to accuse the administration of breaking the law in respect to lieu days earned by those who had worked outside of their normal shifts.
“Special days and lieu days are added to officers’ vacation and our staff over the years has taken these lieu days as additional leave . . . . However, officers who did such in the past are now being penalized for taking excessive vacation leave. This entire situation is illegal and unacceptable and the association is calling for an immediate halt to this practice and for former incidence to be reviewed,” he stressed.
Browne also issued a chilling warning to Government that its treatment of the officers was putting prison security at risk.
Speaking specifically about the late payment to some workers, he suggested it could leave some officers susceptible to propositions from prisoners or their associates.
“This practice is horrendous and may lead to officers being propositioned or enticed by inmates or their affiliates outside of the prison. I am imploring and pleading with the authorities to intervene and extend mercy,” the senior prison officer said.