Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite has strongly dismissed reports that officers of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Dodds are being victimized by superiors, leading to heightened tensions at the St Philip penal facility.
As matter of fact, the minister who has responsibility for the island’s major correctional facility, asserted that officers were overreacting and had failed to give Government enough time to adequately address their concerns.
The Barbados Prison Officers’ Association (BPOA) through their attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls, filed a constitutional motion in the High Court back in March, challenging 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.
In a press briefing last Thursday, Nicholls charged that immediately after the action was filed, a process was started that resulted in eviction of the BPOA from its office at the St Philip jail.
He also asserted that 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.
However, speaking with the media following today’s UNICEF certificate ceremony at United Nations House in Hastings, Christ Church, Brathwaite said by taking their matter to court, the officers essentially removed the longstanding issues of appointments and non-payment to temporary staff from his ministry’s domain.
“I sat with the prison officers and I said to them, ‘please send me a complete list of your concerns’ and they sent me a list of their concerns one day with a writ the following day. So I said, ‘now what foolishness is this? You don’t give us a chance to actually try to address your issues’. So I have taken the position that this is what the court is there for, if they want to take us to court then they are free to take us to court; that is their right. I don’t have a problem with it one way or the other,” Brathwaite said.
He further explained that he had been given assurances by prison administrators that neither the officer nor the association has been victimized as a result of their stance.
He added however, that while the officers “had rights, they did not have the right to disobey management of the institution”, noting that there had been challenges in this area, which had inevitably led to a firmer hand by those in charge.
“We cannot go back to the dark days of Glendairy and I will do all within my power as minister to ensure that does not happen. It has to be a two-way street with respect from both sides. I have said to the Superintendent [of Prisons John Nurse] to ensure that when I go out to bat for you that I am on good ground. Ensure that if there is a cry of victimization that it is untrue; ensure that you dot your I’s and cross your T’s. I am not aware of any victimization at the prison,” he said.
Acknowledging that he was aware of the officers’ concerns, which included non-payment of salaries to temporary staff and appointments, Government’s top legal advisor stressed that his ministry has endeavoured to ensure that officers were not unduly disadvantaged as a result.
This was a stark contrast to the grim picture painted by Nicholls, who 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”.