Dames questions motivation behind claims of infections among inmates

Dames questions motivation behind claims of infections among inmates

Nine active cases among correctional officers, several infected in recent weeks

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said yesterday that while there have been one or two cases of COVID-19 among staff and officers at the Department of Correctional Services in the last couple of weeks, there has yet to be a confirmed case among the inmate population.

Dames said an inmate receiving care at Princess Margaret Hospital over a month ago contracted the virus, but “he was never at the prison during the time he caught it”.

There have been a plethora of claims reaching Eyewitness News about infections among the prison population.

The minister acknowledged that with the continued rise in infections in New Providence, and the foot traffic in and out of the facility, a case among prisoners, despite stringent practices, can occur.

However, Dames and Bahamas Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Charles Murphy told Eyewitness News they have no knowledge of such a case to date.

Dames said he was unaware of the motivation for such claims as if and when there is an infection, the incident is immediately reported to the relevant health authorities and becomes a matter of record.

“I don’t know what the motive of some people are, but I can tell you based on what we are getting from the trained professionals who work at the prison — the doctor, the nurses, and the other support staff — it’s contrary,” Dames said.

He added: “I don’t know what’s driving it, but every time I hear it, either from a member of the press or someone else we probe.”

Asked how many correctional officers have been infected, Dames said there were nine active cases among officers at last report, and the total number of infections among prison staff was “not much more than that”.

According to Dames, extraordinary measures continue to be taken because “we can’t afford a chronic outbreak”, particularly among frontline agencies.

“The prison has a medical team in place,” he said.

“Even without COVID they have a medical office with a doctor and nurses and a dispensary, so I mean, they have been prepared better than most for these things.

“As information comes forward, they do what they have to do.”

He continued: “The prison was among the first to test for temperature; they have different areas that are compartmentalized and isolated; and when they do have an incident they go the extra mile to quarantine, just to ensure that the problem is not exacerbated… “

Dames also advised that the facility continues to quarantine new inmates and those on remand before they join the general population — a practice performed since the outbreak in mid-March in The Bahamas.

Early release

According to Dames, early release is an ongoing measure, among many others, to mitigate against the virus and reduce the prison population

The prison population stands at over 2,000.

Eyewitness News reported in July that 48 inmates, who were nearing the end of their sentences, were released early as the department sought to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus in the institution.

“We have done some releases this year and some of the things we are looking at is time remaining and age,” Dames said.

“And so, we would have met as chairman of the prerogative board of mercy, we would have released quite a bit of persons who by age as well as time remaining, we would have taken those steps.

“When we added the age in, it was as a result of the pandemic. We are waiting on another submission.”

While he was unable to provide a figure, Dames said the Minnis administration since taking office has released more inmates than some successive governments combined.

“We will share those numbers with you,” the minister added.