Pressure is building at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds with officers said to be close to breaking point.
This revelation was made Thursday by attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls, the legal representative for members of the Barbados Prison Officers Association (BPOA).
During a press briefing at the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Dalkeith Road headquarters, Nicholls not only accused the prison’s hierarchy, including Ministry of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite and Superintendent of Prisons John Nurse, of victimizing his clients, but also warned that protests may be imminent even though prison officers are prohibited by law from taking industrial action.
“My clients have reached boiling point. They have had enough. They are at the doctor’s clinics today getting sick leave because they cannot emotionally deal with having to go work in a system where the Superintendent [of Prisons] is looming large around the prison,” Nicholls said, adding that “this [sick leave] is what they have had to do to get some relief from the pressure”.
However, when pressed by Barbados TODAY to say if there were plans for a major sickout, Nicholls recanted somewhat saying, “I don’t have any information that a sickout is looming”.
He also sought to assure the public that “in my representation of these officers, I will not advise them to do anything to threaten their livelihood, the livelihood of their colleagues or the security of the prison”.
In fact, he stressed that “nothing that these officers are doing is going to affect the security of the prison.
“But I am suggesting to you that if you push people to a boiling point we are not sure what the reaction would be, it could be any reaction,” he warned.
Nicholls, who had filed a constitutional motion in the High Court back in March seeking legal redress on behalf of his clients under the Prison Services Act, also charged that while the issue of appointments and non-payment to temporary staff had been festering for years, tensions between BPOA members and Government had escalated since then, with both Brathwaite and Nurse launching direct attacks on the BPOA.
The motion challenges the constitutionality of amendments to the 1982 prison law, which the officers say explicitly prevent them from having formal representation by a trade union or other lobbying agency.
However, Nicholls explained that immediately after the action was filed back in March, a process was started that resulted in eviction of the BPOA from its office at the St Philip penal institution.
Pressure on officers had also intensified following last November’s BPOA annual general meeting at which president Trevor Browne delivered a scathing attack on Government and the prison administration over their treatment of officers.
So strong was the BPOA head’s address 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.
“They [prison officers] have been humiliated and devastated by the actions of the highest officers in the public service with the connivance of the Superintendent of Prisons. So he has now taken control of the prison officers’ association office with all of their documents, and custody of their property,” the lawyer claimed.
“This is now almost a week since their formal eviction because they were in effect evicted a long time ago by the disconnection of their telephone and their electricity.
“They refused to leave the building under the order of the Superintendent of Prisons and he brought in the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and she demanded the keys and put the people out the building.
“This is what we have come to in a country that just celebrated 50 years of independence,” stressed Nicholls, a former Barbados Labour Party candidate, and who currently represents NUPW President Akanni McDowall and former Governor of the Central Bank DeLisle Worrell in two separate high profile matters against the state.
When contacted by Barbados TODAY for a response to the serious claims, the Superintendent of Prisons would not comment on the matter, while calls to Brathwaite were unanswered.