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Prison corruption

‘You can get anything you want, but it can’t work without warders ’ says ex-con

BY KARYL WALKER Crime/Court Desk co-ordinator walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 14, 2010    

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INMATE anger over a lack of water was the reason given for the riot at the New Horizon Remand Centre last week that ended with 40 inmates and nine correctional officers injured. However, a highly placed security source has rubbished that claim, saying that the facility descended into disorder because of stricter security measures which resulted in a clampdown on contraband being smuggled in, mostly by corrupt warders.

"The water argument is not true," said the source who is privy to sensitive security information and who requested anonymity. "The fact is that a set of warders who were there for a long time and who were facilitating the trafficking of drugs, weapons and cellphones to the prisoners were replaced with new warders."

National Security Minister Dwight Nelson corroborated the claim. "It is because of the stringent measures that we have put in place why they rioted," Nelson told the Sunday Observer. "Don't listen to anything about they can't bathe two times a day like they are used to."

Nelson, who spoke to the Sunday Observer immediately after a crime prevention forum at the Terra Nova Hotel last week, said the security ministry was moving to stamp out corruption among correctional staff.

"We have put measures in place in the correctional institutions to address this and these measures are throwing up offenders," he said.

Efforts by the Sunday Observer to get data showing the number of warders cited for corruption, as well as the amount of contraband found during prison searches over the past five years were unsuccessful.

However, a check of the newspaper's archives online showed intermittent reports of warders being tried for smuggling banned items into prisons.

The most recent case is that of Andre Morgan who was offered $100,000 bail in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court last week.

Morgan was arrested and charged after prison authorities said they searched him at the entrance to cell blocks at the remand centre and found a quantity of ganja, cigarettes and rizzla (paper used to make marijuana cigarettes) in his possession.

He is to return to court next month.

In August 2006, Devon Haughton was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment after he was convicted in the Spanish Town Criminal Court for smuggling illegal drugs and other prohibited items into the St Catherine District Prison in March 2004.

On Friday, an ex-convict who spent 10 years in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre for armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm told the Sunday Observer that warders have been engaged in corrupt practices for decades.

"Prison is no different from the streets. You can get anything you want, but it can't work without warders," said the ex convict. "Everything have it price -- cocaine, ganja, rum, cigarette, rizzla anything."

"When I was in prison I had my TV, DVD player and hot plate," he continued. "If you have a 'hortical' warder who rate you, him will carry anything come to you. If a man know you are a bad man he will make sure you are comfortable."

He also said that warders are especially happy when an inmate comes from a well-to-do family.

"When rich man pickney come a prison warder smile," said the ex-convict. "Him family will run a money pan the warder to protect them son. The rich man pickney will get all the protection and no bwoy can't trouble him or them will feel it from warder."

He also alleged that some warders were open homosexuals and engaged in sexual intercourse with willing prisoners.

"Dem nuh hide. Dem open the bwoy dem cell and the two a dem do dem thing," he said.

Warders have also been accused of supplying inmates with knives and other makeshift weapons that can be used to injure or kill other inmates.

In at least one instance, warders were accused of colluding with prisoners to stage a hunger strike.

In 2004, then Commissioner of Corrections Major Richard Reese reported that warders who were upset over the failure of the penal authorities to pay overdue allowances were inciting prisoners to go on a hunger strike so as to disrupt operations at the maximum security facility. The prisoners, according to Reese, were to have stocked up on food and refuse that provided by the prison.

Last week, a source in the prison system said some warders may have encouraged the inmates at Horizon Remand Centre to riot because the new security measures were creating a dent in their income.

"Warders are not the best-paid persons, so the temptation to earn extra money by smuggling contraband is certainly a reality," the source said.

Another high-level security source revealed that prison authorities have installed a modern 'jammer' at Horizon to stem the flood of cellular phone calls which inmates make from inside the prison.

During last week's riot, the prisoners reportedly broke the locks on the cells and rushed into a section of the remand centre before they were corralled and beaten by warders. Several inmates received broken bones and cracked skulls in the melee.

Nelson questioned how inmates could have broken the locks off cells in the nation's most modern penal facility.

"I am astounded," he said. "No prisoner is supposed to break any lock off any cell in any prison. That is not supposed to happen."

The security minister sought to assure the nation that he would tackle corruption in the prison with vigour.

He was adamant that warders who are caught in breach of the law would be taken out of the system and would face the full force of the law.

"Where we find them guilty of corrupt practices they won't be allowed to remain in the correctional services," he said.

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