Prison unrest looms in Jamaica as Health Minister Horace Dalley’s call for condoms to be distributed in correctional institutions has reportedly angered some inmates and warders.
Up to late last night inmates at five maximum-security prisons were on edge, forcing the correctional service to implement adequate security measures for fear of a recurrence of the 1997 prison riots.
“The inmates and officers are incensed and offended by the remarks (made by Mr. Dalley),” Commissioner of Corrections Major Richard Reese told The Gleaner Monday.
In 1997 two days of prison riots left 47 prisoners dead and more than 40 injured following a similar statement made by then Commissioner of Corrections, Colonel John Prescod.
In that same week, prison warders went on a sickout, charging that the statement was indirectly accusing them of having affairs with inmates. They subsequently called for Col. Prescod’s resignation. There were riots at the General Penitentiary (now Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility) and at the St. Catherine District Prison where a fire broke out. Prisoners accused of being homosexuals were killed or injured.
Major Reese said yesterday that he anticipates there could be a likely recurrence of the riots of nearly a decade ago.
“It’s possible and that is why … I have communication strategy to inform officers and inmates of our policy and assure them that there is no change,” Major Reese said.
The prison boss explained that the policy of the Correctional Department is that condoms are not to be issued in the prisons.
He said he met with inmates and officers at the five correctional institutions yesterday to quell the tension that has been hovering since last week.
Meanwhile, Major Reese told The Gleaner that the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, is conducting ‘The Tower Street Reproductive Health’ project, where they are examining the prevalence rate of infectious diseases in the prison.
He said this research would determine if the correctional service needs to segregate prisoners.
Commissioner Reese claimed the project was severely affected by the remarks made by Mr. Dalley but that he has been able to reassure inmates and get the programme back on track.
He also told The Gleaner that his department employs mandatory testing of new inmates at the Tower Street facility to determine if they should be quarantined.
The Health Minister had said last week that he was in favour of introducing condoms in prison to prevent infection.
“I am in support of getting condoms in the prisons because I, as Minister of Health, cannot deny that HIV/AIDS infection exists among people who are incarcerated,” Mr. Dalley had said.
According to statistics about five per cent of the prison population is infected.