Prison service short of 283 warders

Prison service short of 283 warders

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 22, 2021

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COMMISSIONER of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Gary Rowe says the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is short of 283 warders to serve the island's prisons.

Rowe said that an investment in training a second cohort of trainees to fill the 283 vacancies within the department fell through with the onset of the novel coronavirus last year.

However, he said yesterday that the department was able to move around the $342 million from the revised requirement due to attrition and the planned recruitment to cover a lack of allocation for several other areas of the department, leaving it well within the estimates proposed at the start of the year.

“In the interim, we continue to work with the numbers that we have, but that is always a challenge, including fatigue, moreso with the pandemic shift system,” Rowe told members of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), as its members reviewed the Third Estimates of Expenditure for 2020/21 at Gordon House yesterday.

“We have the staff on board who appreciates that it is going to take a journey to get to get the other vacancies filled. No doubt they are anticipating for an additional influx [of staff], but, in the meantime, we continue to hold our fort with what we have,” he added.

The commissioner was responding to questions from chairman of the committee regarding the $342 million windfall for the DCS in the 2020/21 budget, which has been used to top up financial support for compensation, including salaries, travel, and subsistence expenses.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security Courtney Williams informed the committee that, while there has been no adjustment in the DCS's allocation, there are areas in which there have been reductions, which are offset by increases elsewhere in the estimates.

He said that compensation within the DCS had savings of $280 million, which arose primarily from the fact that two cohorts of recruits that the department planned to have trained during 2019/20 had been reduced to one cohort.

“So, without the second cohort that we had anticipated to have engaged, the COVID pandemic disrupted that recruitment level. As a result of the lower level and the saving on compensation, we were able to utilise these savings to deal with expenses on generally non-salary recurrent side of the budget,” he explained.

He noted that other issues the department had to deal with included adhering to the health protocols, in terms of getting the necessary equipment and products for temperature monitoring and sanitation.

However, Commissioner Rowe said that, despite the unexpected saving, the department was still understaffed, especially in terms of the correctional officer one rank, which is the entry rank for warders.

“In assuming the post of commissioner, one of the first challenges I had was to confirm whether or not I had adequate staff to do the job. In 2019, I was understaffed by 250 at the correction officer one entry level,” he told the committee. There are 1,300 warders at the entry level in the DCS.

He said that even with the graduation of 111 new officers late last year, the department was still understaffed by 283 officers, all in officer one category.

He said that the department had endeavoured to establish an accredited training package, utilising the downtime in 2020, that could deal with batches of approximately 100 trainees twice per year. However, this was also hindered by the pandemic.


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