#Providenciales, November 17, 2018 – Turks and Caicos – A recent newspaper article from the Turks and Caicos Islands Human Rights Commission about conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison in Grand Turk, not only sought to raise issues at that institution, but it also calls into question the motive behind the said commentary which contained several exaggerations and inaccuracies.
First, there can be no denying that problems exist at the prison, as is the case at penal institutions worldwide.
While the issues raised by the Human Rights Commission have existed for many years and therefore predate this administration, my ministry and this government is on record stating our commitment to effect positive changes, not only at the prison, but at all other institutions throughout the country that have been either neglected or under-funded by previous administrations.
As a government, we do not take any matters at the prison lightly.
This is precisely why we feel that it was highly reckless, improper and sensational for the Human Rights Commission to call for the prison to be condemned, especially without any facts or logic to substantiate such a recommendation.
Such knee-jerk and emotional reaction only serves to create unnecessary panic locally, while at the same time painting an unwarranted and ugly picture of our country in the international community.
As the minister responsible for the prison, I can agree that there is room for improvement at the institution, but the situation is honestly not as drastic and dire as the Human Rights Commission has stated.
I therefore want to give the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands and beyond, the absolute assurance that we are committed to penal reform and continuous upgrades at the prison.
Indeed, the record will reflect that since assuming office in December 2016, we have been systematically working to address the myriad of issues that existed and those that have surfaced. It remains a work in progress.
In this financial year, $1,000,000 has been allocated to renovation and reconstruction of the yellow wing, following the known devastation which the prison experienced during hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Over the past two years we also boosted manpower resources at the prison with trained personnel from the UK.
In collaboration with the management of the prison, we are continuously reviewing and diligently working to improve aspects of operations at the prison that have been identified.
These corrective initiatives are highly sensitive and of course cannot all be ventilated in the public domain, because of internal and national security implications.
My ministry and my government therefore finds it patently puzzling that officials from the Human Rights Commission would visit the prison with ulterior motives, and then proceed to launch a strong and scathing attack on the institution without at all seeking to engage the government of the day in dialogue about the Commission’s findings and concerns. The Ministry has yet to be in receipt of any reports from the Human Rights Commission.
This disingenuous approach which can be reasonably interpreted from the content and tone of the article, as “gotcha politics”, only serves to undermine the serious role, functioning, impartiality and independence of the Human Rights Commission.
It is therefore most unfortunate that the Human Rights Commission would seek to distort the truth and exaggerate conditions at the workshop, the prison farm and in the computer room, all of which have been doing exceptionally well for many prisoners and also to the benefit of the public.
Let me also take this opportunity to tell the public that as part of the rehabilitative exercise, Cabinet has approved the alternative sentencing bill that will be tabled in the House of Assembly at its next sitting, also to include a probation and rehabilitation unit; provisions for the recruit for new staff was provided this financial year.
This will of course add new dimensions to sentencing options and how inmates are reintegrated into our small society and will also contain a wide range of progressive penal reform measures.
I wish to close these remarks by stating that all of us in this country, including the Human Rights Commission, must work together as partners to ensure that the prison and by extension the Turks & Caicos is a better.
While criticisms are always welcome, hidden agendas and panic attacks do very little to instill confidence in the nation building exercise which should be a common and resolute goal.
Press Release: Ministry of Home Affairs