By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
The transfer of high risk prisoners from Her Majesty’s Prison to the United Kingdom (UK) correctional facilities was described by His Excellency Governor John Duncan as complex. The Governor, while noting that the proposal is possible, announced that cost might be a factor, because UK taxpayers will not agree to pay for BVI prisoners.
In recent months there have been reports of prisoners assaulting prison officers at Her Majesty Prison and some in the community canvassed a previous discussion about whether high risk prisoners can be transferred to various United Kingdom facilities.
The Colonial Prisoners Removal Act (1884) makes provisions for transfer of prisoners from one Overseas Territory to another, or to the UK mainland, in certain limited circumstances. In addressing the subject during his press conference on 19 August, Governor Duncan reiterated that the transfer apparatus is already in place to facilitate the holding of certain prisoners overseas.
He explained: “There are issues about some of these long term prisoners. Mechanisms exist to have high risk prisoners held in other jurisdictions, but the BVI has to pay for them and it is pretty expensive.”
In expounding on the cost factor, His Excellency said: “Why would you ask the UK taxpayer to pay the cost of a BVI prisoner in a UK prison, because it is not free. So it’s a legitimate question of the UK taxpayer — why am I being asked to pay this when the BVI is a rich jurisdiction relatively speaking so they would ask the BVI to pay,” Governor Duncan said.
“The question is — do we send the Virgin Islands people over to a next jurisdiction and pay for them or improve our prison facilities; and there are also problems with the nationality of the person that is in prison. We don’t just have BVI prisoners, we have all sorts of people, and if it is certain nationalities the UK would say no – we are not accepting these persons, it’s not our responsibility, it is your responsibility. It is quite complicated,” the Governor pointed out.
Meanwhile, His Excellency announced that the Superintendent and staff of the prison are doing a great job. He also noted that the UK recently reviewed Her Majesty’s Prison and some areas were cited as needing to be improved: “The prison, I think Superintendent Foot is doing a very good job with his team. We have a rather high number of prisoners in there, and the prison has just been subject to a review from the UK, it would not surprise you that we need to improve it, improve facilities there; but again that has to be balanced with things that we need to do,” Mr. Duncan said.
Subject of Prisoner Transfer Put to Premier
In 2013, Premier Dr. Hon. D. Orlando Smith told reporters at a press conference on October 18 that Government might consider raising the conversation of Prisoner transfer with the UK as a means of dealing with the reported prison over-crowdedness.
The transfer of prisoners’ provision caters for the removal of dangerous criminals from the prison systems of Overseas Territories (OT) and Premier Smith told reporters: “It is certainly a way that we can consider, especially when it relates to persons who are convicted of very serious crimes.”
It was noted that prisoner transfer may include a situation where significant risk of harm is posed to the prisoner or where the prisoner is a particularly high security risk.
However, it was reported that due to financial constraints, the Minister of Justice has to date only been able to take prisoners from the OTs to serve their sentences in the mainland UK on a full cost recovery basis. This arrangement is reportedly expensive and as a result mainly used in extreme circumstances. In 2013 it was further disclosed that there is currently only one prisoner from the OTs serving his sentence on the UK mainland.
Nonetheless the Ministry of Justice via the 2013 correspondent promised to work with the OT Governments to explore options to increase capacity in the OTs to deal with high security prisoners, with a focus on local capacity building including the training of prison staff, and consideration of a regional high security prison.
BVI Prison Overcrowded
In 2012 Minister with responsibility for Prisons, Hon. Myron Walwyn told the House of Assembly: “The embarrassing situation at Her Majesty’s Prison has been ongoing for quite some time now. Madame Speaker, when I took office on November 9, there were 109 inmates at the prison. There are now 145 inmates. The prison was built with 59 rooms some 13 years ago, the bunks were utilized to allow more than one inmates to use the room and now it has reached the stage where the space is no longer enough.”
According to Minister Walwyn, the ready answer to the problem is to build a bigger prison. However, Hon. Walwyn believes that this should not be the only solution.
“But that cannot be the only way to go. Spending large sums of money to put up more buildings to accommodate more and more inmates in these hard times, cannot be the answer,” the Minister stated. Hon. Walwyn said that the present physical structure has been left for far too long with little or no maintenance. He said that work has to be done on the building and this will be taken on in a safe manner.
When the Balsam Gut Prison was being built a project overseer from Britain told the media at a press conference at Prospect Reef Hotel that the new prison would serve the BVI for a very long time; he elaborated that given the BVI’s low crime-rate as well as the space available at the penitentiary to accommodate inmates there would be no need to expand facilities for many years.
The Prison Service is responsible for the safe custody of all persons committed by the courts, to this end Her Majesty’s Prison provides many roles for the community. It is a prison, young offenders institute, juvenile detention centre, remand centre and immigration removal facility rolled into one. With such a varied remit in custodial terms the Prison has to provide an extensive range of services. It is the Prison’s responsibility to deliver in two main areas, Public Protection and Reducing Re-Offending. The Virgin Islands Prison Service serves the public by helping prisoners to lead law abiding and useful lives in custody and after release, it is the Prison Service duty to treat them with both dignity and humanity.