Trinidad: Rise in cellphone use in prison linked to hits on state witnesses

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Trinidad: Rise in cellphone use in prison linked to hits on state witnesses
March 17 2014. FILE: A crime scene investigator takes a photograph for Forensic analysis at a murder scene in Santa Cruz.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — More than one-third of pris­on­ers in­car­cer­at­ed in the eight pris­ons in this coun­try have ac­cess to a cell­phone “so it is hard­ly sur­pris­ing that crim­i­nals are mak­ing hits from jail.” That is ac­cord­ing to the head of Crim­i­nol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies Dr Randy Seep­er­sad.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia, Seep­er­sad said a study spon­sored by the In­er-Amer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Bank showed 33.6 per cent of pris­on­ers has ac­cess to a cell­phone.

De­scrib­ing the hits on State wit­ness­es as trou­bling, Seep­er­sad said there must be mon­i­tor­ing of all calls that come out of prison and this meant a to­tal crack­down of cell­phones.

“I have been in the prison con­duct­ing re­search and I can tell you the phones do not work when you’re in there. The jam­mers are very ef­fec­tive and the phones will not func­tion. If pris­on­ers have cell­phones and some­thing is not done to get rid of cell phones then you find that pris­on­ers will be able to call hits in prison, “ Seep­er­sad said.

Seep­er­sad ob­ser­va­tion comes fol­low­ing sev­er­al in­stances where state wit­ness­es in crim­i­nal mat­ters were gunned down.

On­ly on Wednes­day night 32-year-old Sarah Veerasam­my, a vic­tim of a gang-rape, was shot dead along with her 62-year-old fa­ther. Be­fore that, at least 3 oth­er state-wit­ness­es were si­lenced, in­clud­ing Can­dy Ann Mcin­tyre who was killed right af­ter at­tend­ing her son’s grad­u­a­tion.

For­mer head of the Na­tion­al Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre (NOC) and se­nior re­search lec­tur­er with An­glia Ruskin Uni­ver­si­ty, Garvin Heera said be­cause of the spike in the num­ber of “hits” there may be a need to do an in­ter­nal eval­u­a­tion of the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme.

“What is nec­es­sary at this time is some sort of re­view or au­dit from the top to the bot­tom of the en­tire process so we can do a risk, threat and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine where are the breach­es are so we can per­fect the sys­tem.”

He said Such a re­view will al­so as­sist in en­cour­ag­ing oth­er State wit­ness­es to come for­ward.

“If at present we are hav­ing this type of neg­a­tiv­i­ty be­ing por­trayed about the en­tire pro­gramme then I will strong­ly rec­om­mend a re­view of the present op­er­a­tional­i­ties that are tak­ing place. Let us look at the func­tion­al­i­ties of this sys­tem with re­gard to man­pow­er, hu­man re­sources, fi­nan­cial re­sources and man­age­ment of the pro­gramme as a whole…. so we can de­ter­mine where we are,” he added.

But Seep­er­sad al­so called for the au­thor­i­ties to crack down on the use of cell­phones in prison

He said, “There are two sources, friends and rel­a­tives or staff.” Not­ing there were many up­stand­ing prison of­fi­cers in the na­tion’s pris­ons, Seep­er­sad said there were al­so of­fi­cers who cor­rupt­ly use prison to make ex­tra mon­ey.

“They sell phones, drugs and even weapons. There are crim­i­nals who could call hits. If all calls are mon­i­tored, the au­thor­i­ties can in­ter­vene and this will re­duce the like­li­hood of peo­ple call­ing shots on oth­ers, he said.

Seep­er­sad said se­nior prison of­fi­cers were aware of the prob­lems and want­ed to im­prove things.

“The best rec­om­men­da­tions I can make is for the au­thor­i­ties to utilise lie de­tec­tors, do covert checks in prison and when you find trans­gres­sions deal with it se­vere­ly,” Seep­er­sad added.

On Mon­day, Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er called on the pub­lic to as­sist the po­lice in solv­ing crime by com­ing for­ward as wit­ness­es.

Con­tact­ed yes­ter­day he said there was no need to re­vamp the pro­gramme, adding that the cost and num­ber of wit­ness­es en­rolled were con­fi­den­tial and could not be di­vulged. He said no­body ac­tive­ly en­rolled in the pro­gramme had died.

Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young al­so echoed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments say­ing, “No, there is no need to re-eval­u­ate the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme at this time. No one who is en­rolled in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme has lost his or her life.”

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