Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley *File photo
Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley *File photo

A raft of new measures to tighten security at Westgate have been rolled out to help eradicate the false perception of it being a holiday camp.

A permanent cellphone signal blocker will bolster increased CCTV coverage and no-go zones at the West End facility, Michael Dunkley told the Bermuda Sun.

The Public Safety Minister said tough new sentences for inmates and officers caught smuggling in contraband will be balanced by a fresh drive to see more prisoners take part in work release programmes.

Just last week a total of 25 prisoners from the island’s three facilities were out on either charity or community release programmes.

And inmates have also been deployed to help Works and Engineering and the National Office of Seniors in a bid to give them the best chance of finding a job when they are released.

Mr Dunkley said: “We are very conscious of doing what we can to get these individuals to be productive and learn some of the values they might be missing.

“But we understand it comes with a great deal of concern from the public that the inmates are properly supervised.

“We want to see more of these kind of work release programmes in the community because the majority of prisoners are coming out at some time and we have to prepare them to do that.

“These type of charity and community programmes are vital to build up their skills.”

Recent legislative changes brought in this summer make provision for increased sentences for anyone caught smuggling contraband into a prison.

While Mr Dunkley revealed there were plans to install a permanent ‘cellphone blocker’ in the near future.

He added:  “An experimental system was put in place by the previous administration and we are moving towards a permanent system that would block the signal.

“This would greatly impede inmates from communicating with the outside. It will also mean that officers will not be able to communicate with cellphones and would have to use their handheld radios instead.

Falling prison population

“I would hesitate to put a date on when it will be introduced but we are moving on this as quickly as possible.”

Mr Dunkley said the prison population across Bermuda had fallen over the last couple of years.

The latest statistics for the end of September show that 162 prisoners are currently being held at Westgate where the capacity is 199.

The Deputy Premier said that the population itself had also changed dramatically over the last five years.

He added: “For us on the outside it is easy to criticize life on the inside, but once you have your freedom take away there is a sharp shock. Prison in Bermuda is no joke and if you talk to inmates upon release they will confirm that. They are not sitting off watching the football.

“If you have a prisoner up there demonstrating during their time they will do everything that the system asks them to do why should they not get some kind of perks within the prison.

“There is a common fallacy that people are sent to prison for traffic offences and small amounts of marijuana for personal use. They think there are people up there because they have not paid debts.

“That is not the case. The vast majority are up there for serious crimes that warrant the time.

“The prison population has changed drastically from five years ago. Today the majority are assumed to be gang members or have gang affiliations.

“And that has meant the officers have had to do things a little bit differently with regard to special precautions.” n