(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.”