Police and prison authorities have launched separate investigations into alleged physical assaults on warders by some inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds during the last year.
This was revealed today by Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson who also disclosed that at least one of those prisoners has been charged by police.
He was responding to a Page 3 story in the Barbados TODAY February 12 edition, headlined Dodds Reports Spike in Assaults on Guards.
The article quoted Treasurer of the Prison Officers Association of Barbados Nigel Hall who, in an exclusive interview, said that nearly half dozen officers had been physically assaulted at the prison by inmates since early 2019, and they were not happy with the response to their concerns by either Superintendent of Prisons John Nurse or Minister Hinkson.
When the Minister was first contacted last week, he denied knowing of any such incidents, but today he said he was aware of a single reported assault and also confirmed that both the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Superintendent of Prisons were investigating other matters.
“Prior to the article, I had knowledge of only one incident where a prison officer sustained an injury within the last year during the course of his employment. That incident, which is referred to in the article, was drawn to my attention in October last year,” he said in a statement.
“Since the publication of the article, I have also requested information on the other instances referred to in the article. This information reveals that the Royal Barbados Police Force is investigating two of the incidents and has charged an inmate in connection with one. The inmate in connection with one other incident has been dealt with by the Superintendent as he is authorized to do. Meanwhile, other matters are being investigated at the level of the Superintendent,” Hinkson added.
Hinkson admitted that the officer referred to in the Barbados TODAY article – who was allegedly injured in January last year while attempting to intervene in an altercation between two prisoners – now requires a medical procedure for an injured right leg and the cost of the surgery was estimated at $55,000.
The Home Affairs Minister said that once he had become aware of that incident, the Director of the National Insurance Scheme was contacted to see what, if any, assistance could be given to the injured officer to pay for the surgery.
“The NIS responded and indicated that the officer was receiving employment injury benefit, allowing him to be eligible to receive reimbursement for medical and travelling expenses in relation to his injury. We were however informed that the NIS cannot advance any monies upfront towards his operation,” added the Minister who is responsible for prisons.
Hinkson said that in spite of this, he has urged the Ministry and the Prison Service to find alternative ways to assist the officer in obtaining funds for the recommended operation.
He also rejected Hall’s assertion that he was informed of the wardens’ concerns about attacks during a meeting with the Prison Officers Association on January 8, 2019.
“The official notes of the meeting also do not reveal any such contention,” the Minister said.
Hinkson went on to chide the association for refusing to nominate a representative to sit on the Prisons’ Advisory Board.
“I yet again urge the Prison Officers’ Association to accept the Cabinet’s offer from April last year, to appoint a prison officer, for the first time, to sit on the Prisons’ Advisory Board, so that grievances such as those highlighted in the article can be heard and addressed at that level. The association has so far unreasonably refused to nominate any prison officer to attend these meetings,” the Home Affairs Minister lamented.
He said matters such as that involving the injured officer could have been addressed and resolved through meetings of the advisory board rather than being publicly ventilated.
Hinkson also addressed the challenging issue of medical insurance to cover injured wardens on the job.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs is urgently seeking out ways to address the issue of a lack of medical insurance to cover compensation for prison officers injured on the job. I am informed that the management of the Prison Service has for the last five years been assiduously attempting to have its staff become a part of a group medical insurance plan for the protective services of Barbados,” he disclosed.
However, he said he was informed the required numbers could not be obtained as prison officers complained that the insurance premium was too high.
“The Prison Service is actively pursuing alternative schemes in order to find an insurance company which would provide the best coverage on the most reasonable financial terms, on behalf of the small minority of staff members who have expressed an interest in joining the programme,” Hinkson concluded.
Hall had said that between January 2019 and January this year, five of his colleagues were attacked by inmates. These included a female officer who was allegedly physically assaulted by a male prisoner and had to walk with a cane.
The Prison Officers’ Association Treasurer reported that another officer had hot tea thrown in his face and a warden’s head was “burst” by an inmate. He had also told Barbados TODAY that another officer had to get nine stitches to his face as a result of an assault.