POINTE BLANCHE–Attorneys-at-law Sjamira Roseburg and Shaira Bommel on Monday expressed concern about the health and safety of inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison after reports that a social worker and at least one prison guard have tested positive for COVID-19.
Roseburg and Bommel questioned what prison management is doing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Roseburg said she had asked acting prison director Aartwight Bell how many prison workers had tested positive, how many prison workers are currently in quarantine and whether inmates had been in contact with those workers. She also asked whether inmates and workers are being tested for coronavirus.
She said on Monday night that she has yet to receive answers to these questions.
“In the past, we had meetings during the first wave of COVID-19 with Justice Minister Anna Richardson about decreasing the population of the prison and securing social distancing. This was not done and now the prison is almost full.
“Now we are understanding that there are COVID-19 positive cases in the prison as well – at least some workers in the prison. So, who is ensuring that no inmate has COVID-19 and, if an inmate has COVID-19, that it is not being spread?” said Roseburg.
She said the prison’s positive cases also affect the safety of lawyers and their ability to provide adequate counsel to their clients.
Several lawyers have indicated that they will not be visiting the prison in the coming days because of safety concerns.
While consultation is theoretically possible via digital means, Roseburg says it is not an optimal way for lawyers to liaise with clients.
“We cannot prepare our cases via Zoom or Skype because it’s sensitive information you must discuss with your clients. You cannot do that through those channels that are not secured.
“We hope that the prison’s management and the Ministry of Justice do not see this as an attack. But as lawyers we have one responsibility, and that is to our clients. We must represent our clients because they cannot represent themselves. We are their voice and we have to ensure that their safety is being guaranteed,” she said.
The Daily Herald contacted Bell and Justice Minister Anna Richardson on Monday evening to confirm reports of positive cases among staff at the Pointe Blanche prison. Bell and Richardson did not confirm or deny these claims, instead saying that a joint statement was to be released later.
Around 11:30pm Monday, the Justice Ministry issued a press release that confirmed two prison staff had tested positive for coronavirus.
“The staff members have had no direct contact with inmates and therefore pose no immediate threat to prisoners. Additionally, management of the prison have launched their contingency plan of acquiring more personnel in order to avoid any disruption to the house of detention’s operations,” said the Justice Ministry.
The Justice Ministry said a staff member had told the prison’s management on Saturday that they had tested positive for COVID-19.
“This staff member took precautionary measures, remained at home, and informed the management that they had visited the doctor and had tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member has been advised by CPS [Collective Prevention Services – Ed.] to remain in quarantine. As per protocol, contact-tracing has begun.
“Inmates of the prison do not have direct contact with this staff member. Per protocol, it is always strictly mandatory for all staff members and guards of the prison to sanitise their hands and use a face mask when at work,” said the Justice Ministry.
The Justice Ministry said a guard had contacted prison management on Tuesday, August 11, that they were experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms.
“A guard who stationed outside of the prison contacted management while at home. The guard informed his superior via telephone that he felt ill, and experienced COVID-19-related symptoms. Per protocol, the individual was asked to contact CPS and take precautionary measures by remaining at home and [the person] later tested positive for COVID-19.
“CPS has begun contact-tracing to identify persons in close contact with the staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19. Management of the prison and CPS contacted workers who have possibly been in contact with their colleagues. They have been asked to take precautionary measures, including remaining quarantined at home, and monitoring their symptoms while they wait to be tested,” according to the press release.