Barbados officials say conditions at Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds are stable, following a COVID-19 outbreak that saw more than 240 inmates and members of staff testing positive for the virus, officials said.
However, they said, it will still be some time before the Barbados penal institution is able to facilitate virtual visits between prisoners and their relatives.
From a medical standpoint, Dr. Carl Ward, who has been assigned a Public Health Liaison at the prison, said “the overall situation is stable”.
“Better yet, I would say improving,” he said at a press conference to give an update on the COVID-19 situation at the prison.
“I think it is also important to let people understand that we may still expect some positive cases to pop up among staff and inmates, [but] this is behind the crest of the wave, the wave has crested; the wave has moved on …. And I think that is important for you to understand, that it is not some ongoing explosion of cases at Dodds. What you are seeing coming up as positive would have been people that were positive several days back and we are now getting the result.”
A medical facility, which is being overseen by staff from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), has been set up at the prison to handle positive cases. The facility has 18 regular beds and two critical care beds with space for expansion.
“Thus far, three individuals have been treated in the facility, two inmates and one officer… [and] at present there is no one being treated within that facility, so, therefore, I can let the public know that the inmates are stable,” Dr. Ward added.
When questioned about how the separation of COVID-19 positive and negative inmates was handled, Dr. Ward said the administration at Dodds had identified blocks to be used for isolation purposes where new inmates coming into the system go, before being released into the general prison population.
He added that staff from the QEH monitor all blocks every day, checking for symptoms and paying special attention to those blocks containing positive inmates.
Meantime, Barbados Superintendent of Prisons, Lieutenant Colonel John Nurse reported that in the first two weeks of the year, 70 prison officers reported for duty on a rotational shift basis and were able to reimplement a number of systems that were in place before the outbreak.
However, he said there would still be some restrictions and suspensions on certain activities to allow management to focus on what was “absolutely necessary” at this time, to ensure a healthy and safe environment for inmates and staff.
“We will go through and continue to do all the sanitization of the various locations across the prisons …. The inmates who are here are all settled,” he said.
Nurse said the inmates were participating in various activities, and it was hoped that the prison could return to a state of normalcy in a short space of time.
This was supported by Barbados Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs, Wilfred Abrahams, who added that they were trying to resume, as much as possible, the normal procedures at the prison.
However, he lamented that there was still not enough staff capacity, due to restrictions on the movement of personnel, to reintroduce the virtual visits at this time.
Noting that he understood and sympathized with the desire of relatives to communicate with loved ones on the inside, the Minister made it clear that he was not prepared to sacrifice the security of the prison to accommodate what was not an essential service.
“All non-essential service at the prison is out entirely. Officers who are here have to manage every single thing, and it is difficult to police all aspects properly,” he stated.
Minister Abrahams noted that they could continue to get messages delivered to those querying the status of their loved ones in prison. However, he said permission from the inmate would first have to be sought before information relating to his or her condition was released.