There is “less than a handful” of prisoners on remand at HMP Dodds who have not been to court in over two years.
That is according to Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson, who today disclosed that a list of prisoners on remand at the penal institution was vetted, revealing those numbers.
However, veteran criminal attorney-at-law Angella Mitchell-Gittens, who has been fighting on behalf of some of those prisoners told Barbados TODAY she was informed that there were close to 50 persons at HMP Dodds who had not appeared before the court during that period.
Hinkson’s claim has come one week after it was revealed that petty thief Winston Agard had been on remand for seven years without going to court.
Describing Agard’s situation as a “travesty”, the Minister said after it was highlighted he met with senior prison management, senior management of his ministry, as well as the chairperson of the Prisons Advisory Board, Queen’s Counsel Cicely Chase.
As a result, Hinkson said a list of persons on remand for two years or more was sent to Attorney General Dale Marshall.
“We vetted a list of prisoners who have been on remand for over two years without their case being brought before the courts. Some of these persons have been granted bail, but have been unable so far to meet the conditions of bail set by the courts.
“Some of the other prisoners falling within this category are presently serving sentences for crimes for which they were convicted, and would therefore not be eligible to be released in any event,” Hinkson explained.
“There are, however, less than a handful of persons who have been on remand for more than two years without their cases being before the courts, and whose earlier sentences have recently expired, or who are not serving any sentence at the present time.”
The Minister said those persons would be provided with the opportunity to come before the courts and plead guilty, or otherwise be given a trial hearing.
But Mitchell-Gittens said while she was relieved to hear that action was being taken, the numbers given by the Minister did not add up.
“I am happy to see that things are finally being put in place to prevent this kind of travesty from happening, but I am surprised to hear that there are less than a handful of prisoners who have not come to court in two years,” she conceded.
“In the last week I have had three who have come before the court…and yesterday [Tuesday] one of those guys that came to court indicated that there were 17 persons in his block in a similar position who had been waiting to plead guilty but could not get to court.
“I have seen a list that contains at least 50 names of people who have not come to court in a while and are begging to plead guilty, and it is my understanding there are more. From my vantage point it appears to me that it is a little more than a handful,” Mitchell-Gittens told Barbados TODAY.
The attorney-at-law said any policies to prevent a reoccurrence needed to be properly implemented and monitored.
“What from a practical point of view are we going to do with this information that we now have? Or is it that next year this time we will have another Agard coming down saying ‘Oh my gosh I was lost here for ten years too’” she said.
Hinkson gave his assurance that systems would now be put in place to ensure no prisoner would ever be neglected.
“I accept that the situation which came to light last week was a travesty which ought not to happen in our nation… I have already instructed the prison’s management to put a system in place whereby the authorities responsible for bringing prisoners to trial will be informed periodically of any similar cases in the future,” he said.
Additionally, Hinkson suggested that the plea and direction hearings needed to be brought back to the court system.