Ninety-nine prison officers are currently on sick leave at Her Majesty Prison Dodds where resources are already limited due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
However, Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams this evening dismissed any suggestion that the number of officers on sick leave may be related to industrial action, and stressed that a sick certificate is what it is until it has been proven otherwise.
“So if someone comes out of quarantine and is declared healthy and fit to leave quarantine and leaves quarantine today, and sends in a sick certificate tomorrow, I have to accept that is what it is and something else is wrong with them. You know, I give you the lines, you read between it,” Abrahams said.
The Minister said that with one-third of the 350-plus prison officers on sick leave, incredible pressure is being placed on the other officers.
“So we are down to a situation where there are essential services only at the prison, so when people ask why is it that we can’t resume the virtual visits, why is it we can’t do some of the other things that we did before, we actually don’t have the staff to be able to manage a lot of those.
“So the Barbados Defense Force has stepped up to the plate and I thank the Chief of Staff and his soldiers for stepping up to the plate, and the police as well. But we are trying to not use the BDF officers or the police officers in essential situations. So we don’t necessarily want them interacting with the inmates where it can be avoided. They do perimeter security and other things that do not involve trained prison officer duties,” he said.
Abrahams said the prison’s ability to return to normal operations is governed by management of the COVID situation at the prison, and the shortage of officers.
“There is no getting away from that. So I wish everybody a speedy recovery and I look forward to when we have our full complement back. I believe come next week the complement should increase; we are steadily increasing as people recover.
“I look forward to having a near-full complement so that we can start to put back some of the activities that ease some of the stress on the officers who are there and also some of the inmates.
“It is not easy being in a prison situation in a time like this and the inmates in custody want to be able to speak to their families and do some of the things that give then an almost normal life while they are serving their sentence and a lot of that is conditioned on our complement improving,” he said.
At the same time, Minister Abrahams assured that the health care for inmates has not been compromised in any way, though the pharmacy at the facility was closed for a few days because the pharmacist was unwell. He said during those few days, arrangements were made to get medication from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) for inmates. He said vitamin C was also sourced privately and distributed to inmates.
“The fact that we have been able to reduce the infection rate in the prison to where it is now that we have had no serious cases would tell you that every single issue with respect to the inmates that we received notification on we addressed quickly as the notification came and we did not play with the health of the inmates. I mean, I don’t want anybody to die on my watch,” Abrahams said.
As of January 21, the cases at HMP Dodds stand at 357. This consists of 99 staff members (38 females and 61 males) and 258 inmates. (AH)