Release non-violent, vulnerable inmates! - Stand Up For Jamaica fears COVID-19 outbreak in prisons
Stand Up For Jamaica (SUFJ) is advocating for the release of what it says are "non-violent" and "vulnerable" inmates from prisons across Jamaica for fear that COVID-19 will become rampant in such institutions.
This position, though maintained from Jamaica's first few COVID-19 cases, was strengthened after the non-governmental organisation learnt of five confirmed cases at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in St Andrew on Sunday.
"Stand Up For Jamaica, other civil society groups, and human-rights defendants from the United States wrote an urgent letter to the Ministry of Security advocating for the most fragile, high-risk persons in our society to be protected to prevent the possibility that the virus could spread to institutions in Jamaica. Among them, inmates in the various institutions should have been considered at high risk," Carla Gullotta, executive director of Stand Up For Jamaica, told THE STAR.
"We failed because we got no answer. We don't want them to send out somebody who might be dangerous. You don't send out a murderer, a don, or a rapist. The major persons we are thinking about are juveniles."
SUFJ also wants persons who have pre-existing conditions and inmates on parole prioritised.
Gullotta says overcrowding, lack of appropriate infrastructure, and the need for officers to enter the facilities to perform their daily duties are factors signalling the possibility of the virus spreading.
"The wardens are the only ones allowed to go in and out," she said. "A warden can bring it in, and a warden might catch it and also bring it home. I also think about them. I have to say that the health ministry has been really trying their very best to prevent an outbreak of cases, especially into the institutions, but it is not enough."
Gullotta says isolation is the best option for those inmates with the virus, but that may prove challenging if the numbers rise.
"The protocol should be isolation, but the space is very small," she said. "Let's say that you have three cases. You can isolate them. But if you have 50 cases, what are you going to do? Once one has it, it might be that in a week, 30 [or] 40 people have it. There's no possibility to social distance.
"We urgently ask for an immediate review of inmates eligible for parole with a view to release them, non-violent inmates be placed on parole having served 18 months, and inmates with serious medical conditions to be placed on house arrest. We need to call on all to intervene to prevent a national disaster. Let us not wait until the situation runs out of control."
Gullotta also calls for a reduction in the number of inmates per cell.
"Stand Up For Jamaica also stands on the full respect of all protocols for everybody. Each one and everyone is responsible for his action - and unruly behaviour is an unacceptable damage towards all those who comply - to defend Jamaica from COVID-19 and its dramatic increase."
Dr Horace Chang, minister of national security, told THE STAR that the ministry is working to contain the spread of the virus in prisons.
"The protocols will be instituted to manage the institution," he said. "I wouldn't go beyond that. We operate within the protocols. We have done well up to now. It's the first outbreak. The correctional service will work with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the appropriate protocols are in place."
Chang said that Matthew Samuda, who has direct responsibility for that area, is working assiduously to ensure that the problem is managed.