Seized: Potentially lethal knives and scissors have been confiscated at Westgate, as well as tobacco and a large number of illegal cellphones. *Photo supplied by Prison Officers Association
Seized: Potentially lethal knives and scissors have been confiscated at Westgate, as well as tobacco and a large number of illegal cellphones. *Photo supplied by Prison Officers Association

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25 UPDATE: A prison officer or an inmate could die unless urgent action is taken to beef up security at Westgate, prison officers warned yesterday.

And Craig Clarke, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), highlighted the powder keg conditions behind bars with eye-opening photographs of knives, drugs, alcohol and other contraband seized by staff.

Mr Clarke said: “It’s a very strong possibility that one of our officers is going to be seriously hurt or killed — the writing is on the wall.”

He added that Government officials had accused the POA of “exaggerating” the scale of the problem.

But he said: “The Government must begin to take the requests of the POA more seriously or they will have to explain to the general public why their prison system erupted into full-scale anarchy.”

Mr Clarke added: “These seizures of unauthorized articles lead the POA to fear for the health and safety of our officers, as well as those in our custody.

“It puts undue strain on our ability to ensure the inmate population is maintained in a safe, sterile, orderly and disciplined environment.”

But last night Minister of Justice Kim Wilson said she was “a little bit dismayed and concerned” by the comments from the POA.

She added: “The Ministry has always maintained as our first priority the safety of the officers and inmates in our correctional facilities... The Government is taking tangible steps to address the concerns raised by the POA and confident they will be addressed as soon as possible.”

It is the first time the POA has taken the step of releasing photographs of seized material — underlining their concerns.

One picture showed contraband hidden in a hollowed-out section in what appears to a bible.

Mr Clarke said: “The seizures are becoming very common and despite our ongoing and best efforts, we continue to intercept packages almost daily and, with our limited resources, we are certain that not all is being intercepted.”

He was speaking at a meeting of prison officers at the Devonshire Recreation Club, attended by around 100 of his colleagues.

He added that management and resources had failed to keep pace with a changing prison population — with rising numbers of younger inmates with gang backgrounds.

Different mentality

Mr Clarke said: “These inmates have a totally different mentality than inmates from 20 years ago. The majority of our younger inmates come into prison with some form of gang affiliation.

“It is becoming increasingly alarming to maintain this inmate population in a sterile, safe environment. We have officers who face dangerous situations daily to try to curtail the constant threats that seem to be breaching our perimeters. We have been finding more weapons, seizing more drugs and unauthorized items from within our perimeter walls.”

And he added that it could be time for Prisons Commissioner Edward Lamb to step down.

Mr Clarke said: “He’s a beautiful person, but he may not be the right person to lead the Bermuda Department of Corrections. That’s my opinion — don’t take that as the opinion of the body.”

Mr Clarke said high net fencing should be installed around the prison walls to prevent dangerous items being thrown over for collection by inmates.

And he called for special security teams to patrol the perimeter to discourage people from throwing contraband into the prison grounds, as well as for tougher sentences for those caught trying to smuggle drugs or weapons into the jail.

Mr Clarke said: “It does not appear that those charged to manage the Bermuda Department of Corrections are cognizant of staying current with best practices, methodology and technology that will minimize the risk to human capital.”

Mr Clarke said a review of the prison service should be carried out by prison Commissioners from overseas, or senior managers from the UK prison service, rather than Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, whose role was to ensure that prisoners were treated properly, rather than carry out a root and branch review of the system itself.

He added: “We cannot continue to send our officers into institutions which are unsafe. We have worked under these conditions for too long so it is time for the politics, the sound bites, the rhetoric and the misinformation to stop.”

Mr Clarke said: “The days of continuing to maintain the veil of secrecy of what prison officers are faced with must end. The POA feels that not enough is being done to make our prison system a safer place.”

Prisons Commissioner Eddie Lamb — who was backed by Ms Wilson — said: “There is no question that the young men coming through our doors have more issues than perhaps they did in the past.”

And he added: “I do believe I have the support of the majority of my staff.”

Ms Wilson added: “There are always going to be pockets of discontent — I am confident the vast majority of prison officers who work in the Department of Corrections are supportive of his leadership.

“He is doing a very good job, although there are some challenges.”

She said: “I appreciate the officers’ concerns — I’m also satisfied in knowing we have a highly-regarded professional membership in the Corrections Department and that they are not only operating to best practices, but they have an infrastructure to do the job.”

She added that the terms of reference for a review of prisons had been agreed with the POA last month and that Government’s Department of Management Services was in the final stages of planning for the probe.