ATTORNEYS representing a group of more than 500 remand inmates at the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) in Arouca have issued Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi with a threat of legal action claiming that the State is failing to properly protect them from the Covid-19 virus.
The inmates are seeking the implementation of proper protocols at the prison to prevent the spread of the virus, or else they said they would be filing a claim for breach of their constitutional right to life was being infringed.
In a pre-action protocol letter, the 509 prisoners, who are all members of the Justice Seekers Association, said they have not been convicted of any crime and are currently awaiting trial, in some instances, for more than 16 years.
They are being represented by attorneys Antonya Pierre, Anthony Egbert, Farai Hove Masaisai and Sallian Holdip-Francis.
The attorneys stated that the current spread of the virus at the prison was due to the failure and refusal of the Prisons Commissioner, Minister of Health and Inspector of Prisons to ensure that proper health protocols were implemented.
Prisoners, the letter stated, were being denied basic amenities such as soap and water. They were also not being allowed to wear masks.
“The reason for this seems to be down to pure ignorance and arrogance of office holders (who) are supposed to protect against the loss of life but instead have placed little to no value on the lives of these human beings,” the letter stated.
It went on to add that for the past year, there has been no running water at the prison and therefore, toilets in the cells cannot be regularly flushed.
Further to that, the prisoners in each cell are only given half a bar of blue soap and half a bar of red soap per month.
There is no hand sanitiser, and physical distancing is impossible when there are at least seven prisoners occupying one cell or even when they get their one-hour airing period.
The letter stated that the last time any type of sanitisation of was carried out was back in March when this country recorded its first case of the virus.
On that occasion, the prison was sprayed with a mist blower using bleach and water.
The attorneys went on to say that prison officers interact with others on the outside world when they are not on duty but in spite of this, when they return to duty do not wear masks, gloves or use hand sanitiser.
This they said was increasing the chances of the virus being spread among the prison population.
The letter made mention of an application for leave for judicial review that was filed by the group against the Commissioner of Prisons in May, but which was denied by the court.
The dismissal of the application has since been appealed and will come up for hearing sometime next year.
In that claim, the prisoners were seeking to be provided with cleaning agents and protective fear so that they can clean the cells themselves.
They were also asking that the cells be professionally sanitised once per week and for them to be tested for the virus at regular intervals.
In the legal letter, the prisoners are once again asking that these requests be met. They are also proposing that they be compensated for breach of their constitutional rights.
Since earlier this month the prison has been on lockdown after it was reported by the Ministry of Health 18 prisoners had tested positive for the virus.
Last weekend, the ministry issued another media release stating that an addition 46 inmates had contracted the disease.