curbcrime

Should Prisons Officers Pay Damages for Beating Inmates?

In prison abuse, restorative justice on October 15, 2014 at 6:06 am

The issue of prisoner abuse in Trinidad and Tobago took a new turn recently. While an historic National Restorative Conference was taking place in Port of Spain, a High Court Judge was adjudicating the award of damages for 2 inmates who had sued the State for injuries sustained during a beating received from prisons officers.

“Justice Frank Seepersad, in delivering a ruling at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain yesterday in favour of two prisoners who were beaten by officers, said taxpayers were being over-burdened by their money being used to pay such costs”. He opined that prisons officers may not engage in such use of unreasonable force against inmates if they knew that they would be required to pay part or all of the Court’s award of damages.

Seepersad said the time had come for the State to stop “abdicating its responsibilities” and implement prison reform, pointing out there was an urgent need to train and equip officers who, on a daily basis, were required to deal with difficult conditions and operate under “psychological warfare” as they carried out their duties.
He said despite there being talks concerning the abuse of prisoners, there were still inadequacies relating to the implementation of systems to deal with the issue. The judge said proper training of officers might ensure they did not overstep their boundaries when faced with situations where they were met with resistance by inmates, but would instead employ other methods apart from that of unreasonable force.
He added that despite being convicted, prisoners still had their constitutional human rights, saying there was a need for a review of prison rules and even though draft rules were in circulation, the system was still operating under archaic ones. “The urgent implementation of new systems must be done as a matter of urgency,” he said.
In view of the intention of the Ministry of Justice to proceed with the development of a national restorative justice policy, it would be interesting for them to take the initiative to have restorative conferences or circles around these issues. Such interventions would bring together inmates, officers, their respective supporters and key community stakeholders discuss the issues of prisoner abuse and arrive at solutions to repair the harm caused, address causal factors of the officers’ behaviour and develop possible policy and operations changes to reduce the likelihood of future inmate abuses through use of unreasonable force.
While the learned judge may well be correct in his recommendations, we believe that having the Prisons Service and the particular officers participate actively in a discussion of the issues and agree with other stakeholders (including key officials of the Ministry of Justice) as to the way forward would bring genuine change to the prisons for the benefit of officers, inmates, the State and taxpayers alike.
For more on this news item, please see the Trinidad Express article here.
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