For years there has been reports of overcrowding at Her Majesty’s Prison and now it was disclosed that the situation has reached a critical level. The current state of the Balsam Ghut penal facility was mentioned to The Island Sun newspaper during an interview with Superintendent, David Foot.
When pressed for an update on the crowd problem at the facility, Mr. Foot told this newspaper: “At the moment we are nearly at maximum capacity, and we are working hard to deal with some of the issues around that.”
The Superintendent explained that the crowd situation is one of the reasons the prison is promoting rehabilitation. He said that this is being done in the hope that the prisoners will be able to help themselves, rid tax payers of the burden and free up space at the prison.
The Colonial Prisoners Removal Act (1884) makes provisions for transfer of prisoners from one Overseas Territory to another, or to the UK mainland, and with the current overcrowding of the Territory’s main correctional facility the option has been mentioned a few times.
Mr. Foot’s opinion on the matter was sought and he explained that he is aware of the possibility. “It [transfer of prisoner]has happened in the Virgin Islands before…It has not been done in my time, but it has certainly been done before. There is a very old piece of legislation that covers that eventuality; and it is an option if we needed to use it but I have had no discussion,” the Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prison said.
Governor Won’t Rule Option Out
The problem of overcrowding at the prison was mentioned to newly appointed Governor His Excellency Augustus Jaspert during his 29 August media press conference. The Governor was also asked to give his opinion on the transfer option.
The Queen’s Representative announced that he is familiar with the transfer provision. He also noted that it was his first week in office, and that he did not have an opportunity to visit the prison or meet with Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn with whom he shares the responsibility for Her Majesty’s Prison.
Nonetheless, the new Governor said that he is sure that Minister Walwyn shares the aim of ensuring that the prison is a strong place of justice and a strong place of rehabilitation: “That’s something that I look forward to taking forward to the Minister.”
In relations to the matter of transfer the Governor said: “I am aware that some of the other Territories have prisoner transfer, and at this point essentially I don’t think we should take any option off the table for improving things. I don’t know if that is the right answer or not, because I have not been to the prison, and I have not spoken to the Minister. I don’t know how overcrowded it is at this point I have been briefed up on it, but I have not had a chance to visit to see for myself,” he said.
His Excellency said that he would not rule anything out as it relates to address the problem. “My general approach is that any option should always be on the table and to work through what is the best option for the right time for the right situation. That is what I will be discussing as we go forward with the prison,” the Governor pointed out.
“Prisons are actually critical part of a strong justice system…I have worked in the past playing roles in the UK system in terms of reducing reoffending and also overseeing…so I am quite familiar with the vitality of strong prisons as part of upholding justice as a whole. I hope to get to the prison soon, and to discuss with the Minister how we go forward,” he added.