Prison poorly equipped to secure high-risk inmates

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Failings at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward that contributed to the escape of three inmates are “systemic and long-term” and will not be solved overnight, officials say. 

Two of the three fugitives, Steve Manderson and Chadwick Dale, were back behind bars last week. Marcus Manderson, 24, was still on the run as of press time Sunday.  

The two recaptured men have been reclassified as greater escape risks and are now being kept in the most secure area of the prison, where they will be watched round-the-clock. They will lose privileges, including access to computer classes, and Manderson will lose his job in the prison laundry.  

Eric Bush, chief officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said prison bosses would do everything in their power to ensure there is no repeat of the incident. But he acknowledged that the prison is ill-equipped to cope with offenders classified as high-risk or as an escape risk. 

At the top of a long list of costly modifications required at Northward is a tougher perimeter fence.  

“We have a fence that can be cut with tools,” Mr. Bush said, “and it was cut with tools two weeks ago. Whether that was from the inside or the outside is still under investigation, but the fact is we don’t have a wall. We don’t have a hardened surface. 

“We can put all the razor wire 15 feet above, but if they can simply cut through on the bottom and go out …” 

Adding 8 feet of iron cladding to the fence would eliminate that problem and reduce the sight-line of prisoners to the outside, Mr. Bush said. 

The amount of money that will be available to make changes at the prison will become clear in the next budget. Negotiations will take place over the coming weeks as the government prepares to bring the Appropriations Bill to the Legislative Assembly. 

Wider CCTV coverage also may be part of the solution, but Mr. Bush ruled out the possibility of hiring staff to monitor security cameras in real-time. 

The initial stages of the escape, in which the three men broke out of a window in a secure recreational area, were caught on camera. But the footage was not viewed until after their disappearance was discovered. 

Mr. Bush said it does not make financial sense to invest in live monitoring of cameras, either at Northward or across the island’s network of 250 cameras. He said there are more than 80 cameras at the prison, and research has shown it would take more than 50 full-time staff to monitor them 24 hours a day. 

The initial focus of reform will be on physical infrastructure and security, he said, adding that failings in other areas needed to be addressed as well. 

He said the facility is rated as a category C prison by U.K. standards, but it houses more than 10 category A prisoners, classified either as dangerous violent offenders or escape risks. There are also category B prisoners, whose threat level classification and escape risk the prison is not capable of meeting. 

“It will take significant investment for us to strengthen the outer fabric and the security of HMP Northward to a level where the facilities and staffing levels will match the level of threat with the prisoner we are charged with securing,” he added. 

Concerns have been raised over a lack of purposeful activity for inmates and the quality of rehabilitation programs. 

“The prison has always been on my priority list because it is one of the areas which I think requires the most attention,” Mr. Bush said. “We are talking about failings on the security side with three people escaping. That is what is in the public domain now, but the constant focus of the Ministry of Home Affairs and for me personally is improving both aspects of the prison service, safety and security and rehabilitation.” 

One of Mr. Bush’s first actions as chief officer was to commission the prison inspection in February 2012. He said the challenge now is to carry out its recommendations. 

“The weaknesses and failings were not as a result of neglect that happened overnight. They are systemic and long-term. They won’t be fixed in a day. We have a strategic plan to address them, and we are hoping that government will have the resources to provide us to improve.” 

Meantime, Mr. Bush reiterated a plea to the remaining fugitive to give himself up. 

“While these circumstances may be dramatized and glorified in Hollywood and on television, they are very real circumstances. With both Chadwick Dale and Steve Manderson, it was clear they had been on the run since they escaped and were showing signs of ill health, thus the very poignant and relevant plea to Marcus Manderson and anybody aiding him is to turn himself in.” 

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Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward
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