Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage suggested that more inmates receive bail or be given community service instead of being remanded or sentenced in light of the chronic overcrowding at the prison.
“What we can do that would be very swift would be to permit more persons not to have to be remanded to prison, and either have them on bail or give them community service [and this] kind of thing,” said Nottage when asked what can be done to address overcrowding.
He also said some inmates on remand at the prison are spending more time behind bars than their prison sentences once finally convicted.
Nottage said the inmates on remand have primarily contributed to overcrowding.
The prison population is currently 1,600 inmates.
“It is not easy [because] this is a very old prison that was built for apparently 1,300 prisoners and on most occasions we have well over 1,500 people in the prison,” Nottage told reporters following an inmate drug treatment program ceremony at the prison.
“Most of the people who are here are here on remand. They have not even had a trial, but they are either here because they cannot pay bail or they have not been given bail.
“In truth, and in fact, part of the reason for that too is that we can’t get swift enough trials, and as a result the prison is overcrowded, especially the Maximum Security section of the prison.”
Nottage said though the government is working on the problem there is no quick fix because it will require a lot of money and a lot of time.
Speaking to the extent of the problem, Nottage said the daily population ranges on average between 1,400 inmates and 1,600 inmates, its highest point in years.
Shortly after the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the May 2012 general election, Nottage said the Christie administration would review the crime legislation, which came into effect in November 2011.
When asked recently if the prison overcrowding would give the government reason to hasten its review or repeal of those bills, Nottage said, “Not at all”.
In addition to the population problem, structural issues within the prison, including substantial damage to the roof of the prison’s Maximum Security unit has only recently gone out to bid.
Prison officials confirmed the needed repairs more than 10 months ago.
“I understand there has been a selected contractor,” Nottage said. “I do not know who that is. The work is slated to start in the not too distant future.”
Pressed on why the repairs have taken this long, Nottage said, “The roof is a big roof. It is physically difficult to do.”
He insisted that the government’s financial constraints have not prevented the repairs from going forward.
By Royston Jones, Jr.
Guardian Staff Reporter