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PM, Court officials tour new Belle Isle prison

PM, Court officials tour new Belle Isle prison


Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the EC$12 million Belle Isle Correctional Facility slated to open by the end of October will be called a hotel, but it is not.{{more}}

He is of the view that the new penitentiary started in 2004 is a “seriously secured facility” where convicts’ liberties will be taken away, yet they will be provided with opportunities to rehabilitate themselves.

On Tuesday, September 15, Prime Minister Gonsalves, accompanied by High Court Judges Justices Frederick Bruce-Lyle, Gertel Thom, and Jennifer Remy, Chief Magistrate Sonia Young, Registrar Tamara Gibson-Marks, President of the Bar Association Kay Bacchus, and other members of the legal fraternity, took a tour of the site to view Phase One of the project.

The contract for the construction of the penitentiary was signed between the Government, Aurin Bennett Architects and Gibson Construction Ltd on May 10th, 2004, in the amount of EC$21 million.

Prime Minister Gonsalves described the new prison as a magnificent facility.

He pointed out that during the preparatory stages the architects and contractors visited several prisons across the Caribbean to see their best practices.

The prime minister stated that Phase One will consist of the Administrative Bloc, the Minimum Security Cell Bloc, the Kitchen Bloc, Laundry, the Gate Station, the Staff Quarters to accommodate 35 officers, and the fencing.

The Minimum Security Cell Bloc section of the prison will house 32 cells to accommodate 288 inmates, with each cell holding nine inmates.

Phase Two will comprise mechanical, welding, woodwork, and tailor shops; medical and religious facilities; and a classroom. Constuction on this section commenced on April 20th, 2009.

Regarding the medium and maximum area of the facility, Dr. Gonsalves said this section will house 140 inmates, and construction would commence once Phase One has been officially handed over by the contractors. A block for Remand Prisoners will also be constructed.

The prime minister noted that the prison fence cost the government over EC$2.3 million to be installed, even though it seems like a simple operation.

“Preceding governments have come under criticism for having terrible conditions. And the fact of the matter is this: We have tried to make the prison conditions as good as we possibly can make them,” said Dr. Gonsalves.

He added: “The public doesn’t really like the idea of building a new prison. They would prefer to build other things, because as far as they are concerned generally speaking, once the judge or the magistrate gives their sentence, you can just throw them there and throw away the key and forget about them.”

Dr. Gonsalves said as a civilized country, we ought to have certain minimum standards which includes rehabilitating prisoners and (the) recognition of human rights, even though prisoners are incarcerated.

“Taking away your liberty is in fact a serious punishment, and whilst you are there we shouldn’t try to turn you human beings into barbarians or to try and treat people in the most horrible of ways,” Dr.Gonsalves stressed.

He disclosed that there will be a transitional period where the government will be running two prison facilities. The one at Belle Isle will start its operation with 288 minimum security prisoners, while the Maximum and Medium Security Prisoners will be held at Her Majesty Prison in Kingstown alongside the routine remand prisoners.

He said at the Belle Isle facility, there is a small area that has been earmarked for female prisoners.

Justice Bruce-Lyle expressed thanks to Dr.Gonsalves for the invitation to tour the facility.

He described his visit as an eye opener.

“I think in a way it will ease or salve our consciences when we sentence people to terms of imprisonment because we know at least that they will be going to a facility where even though their liberties are taken they will enjoy some amount of comfort and which will in turn speed up the rehabilitative process,” said Justice Bruce-Lyle.

Kay Bacchus, President of the Bar Association, thanked the Ministry of National Security for organizing the visit. She noted that she was impressed by what she had seen and was looking forward to the completion of the facility.

“I do not think the expenditure is too much for something like this. I think its well worth it and especially on the emphasis on rehabilitation.”

Bacchus noted the problem with the justice system is that the prisons encourage repeat offenders.

She said she is anticipating the new system will discourage this and aid in the administration of justice in St.Vincent and the Grenadines. (HN)