Antigua & Barbuda’s prison officials aren’t leaving anything to chance following the weekend jailbreak at a modern maximum security facility in neighbouring St Lucia. The country’s prison chief has made it clear that it won’t be business as usual at Her Majesty’s Prison, as authorities put measures in place to prevent a similar situation from occurring there.
“When your neighbour’s house is on fire, you wet yours,” Prison Superintendent Anthony Hopkins told The Daily OBSERVER yesterday, two days after the incident at the Bordelais Correctional Facility.
As far as Hopkins is concerned, Her Majesty’s Prison isn’t any more vulnerable than any other jail across the region. But he insisted that correctional facilities across the region have to sit up and take notice.
“It’s a matter of concern and is something that sends a signal and speaks heavily to the security challenges facing us here and in the region,” he said.
“Certainly, it cannot be business as usual with our operations. We have discussed and taken certain things on board and we are implementing certain strategies to counteract the situation … Tighter measures will be implemented to increase security,” he added, although not giving details about the steps to heighten security.
In the St Lucia case, two of the three prison escapees were Venezeulans on drug related charges and that country’s National Security Minister Guy Mayers has indicated that the government’s prime concern is to ensure that there is no repeat of Sunday’s attack, given the fact that there are other Venezuelan nationals serving time in the local prison.
But Hopkins explained that additional measures being put in place at Her Majesty’s Prison would not target the three Venezuelans and Colombians who are currently on remand. They were actually arrested, charged and remanded in connection with the country’s record drug bust last month.
“I don’t know any information about these people. Due consideration is being given to securing the prison as a whole, not necessarily finger pointing, not singling out these people,” the prison boss added.
Over in St Lucia, the government has announced that it is setting up an inquiry into the weekend prison break. But even before that is done, Mayers has acknowledged that there were problems at the Bordelais Correctional Facility that contributed to the success of the prison break.
“I can’t release a lot of details about the incident, not until the report of an independent inquiry now being conducted is made available, but it is clear that we inherited a facility with a lot of deficiencies that will need to be attended to,” Mayers told Caribbean Media Corporation.
The facility was opened in 2003 and cost the St Lucian government about $29 million. However, Mayers said the security fences were made from very poor quality material and the absence of walls around the prison made it easier for the inmates to escape.
“The holes they made were not big, but just wide enough for them to squeeze through and make their escape, through the many tracks in the heavy forested area beyond the facility. The prisoners were being supervised at the time of the escape but there were armed persons on the outside perimeter who, apparently, sent a fence cutter to them and they were able to make their way out in view of wardens who were not armed,” the national security minister said.
An exchange of gun fire between the security personnel at the jail and the intruders failed to foil the escape which occurred while the prisoners were in the yard during their recreation period.
Police in St Lucia said that “an aggressive and widespread effort is under way across the island to return the escaped inmates to lawful custody.”
Mayers said that investigators were not ruling out any possibility of internal collaboration in the escape or that the plan may have been hatched from outside the country and executed by foreign elements.
Venezuelan authorities have been contacted and are collaborating with local personnel in efforts to recapture the convicts, while members of the Regional Security System are continuing their land and sea searches for the escapees.