Opinion: Inmates

POSTED: 07/6/11 1:40 PM

The request by prison director Rudsel Ricardo to disband the Inmates Association over fears of trouble during the upcoming renovation project in Pointe Blanche was an ill-advised plan and Justice Minister Roland Duncan quickly killed the idea yesterday.

That decision is justified of course. As Duncan told this newspaper, he does not necessarily need people on the Association’s board who agree with him. The essence of a democracy is that everybody is entitled to her or his own opinion – and this is something our prison director apparently does not understand, or does not accept.

To divide candidates for the Inmates Association board in positive and negative leaders is a bit like classifying prison directors as positive and negative managers.

It really does not make a lot of sense. A constitutional democracy guarantees citizens, also those in prison, the freedom of association. Disbanding any association is only possible if its goals are at odds with the law.

It is not legal to establish for instance the Association to Kill the Queen, or the Association to Bring Back the Third Reich, or the association for a Coup Against the Government. But an association that represents the interests of inmates in a prison is perfectly legal.

Apparently, Ricardo has a hard time dealing with the Inmates Association. That may be so, but it is not a reason that justifies attempts to take away inmates’ constitutional rights.

Maybe Ricardo thinks that the Inmates Association is being unreasonable. They have filed complaint upon complaint over the years against the conditions in the prison, and in the courts they have gotten nowhere. They went on strike, they complained to the justice minister after they lost their court case and they are probably getting ready for a fight over the inmates that have to be relocated to the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay.

There is a difference between being right or wrong and being positive or negative. Board members could have a very positive attitude and be wrong all the time. They could be extremely negative towards the prison management, and be right every time.

Ricardo’s idea to hand-pick four “positive leaders” from the prison population was of course doomed to fail, even if Minister Duncan had been blindsided into going along with it.

So instead of focusing on the positive and the negative leaders in the prison population, Minister Duncan may want to start thinking about how Ricardo is dealing with the stressful task he is entrusted with.

There are ways to come to an understanding with the Inmates Association, but based on results these ways are unknown to Ricardo.

It is therefore good that Minister Duncan has immediately taken some pressure off by kicking the plan in the bud. It’s a good start, but it does not mean that the Minister is out of the woods.

The inmates will resist relocation to Simpson Bay, and daily transports up and down between the immigration center and Pointe Blanche for the sole reason of enabling inmates to take part in the prison’s day program will be an expensive security nightmare.

One thing is certain however: the prison needs to be renovated (the inmates have been badgering the government about this long enough) and inmates will have to move to another location to make this possible. That they may find themselves in conditions that are not strictly according to internationally acceptable standards is of course tough. But then, our inmates have gotten used to tough conditions a long time ago. And if something’s gotta give, guess who will have to move over?


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