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Samuda bemoans prisoners’ COVID-19 vaccine snub


MONTEGO BAY, St James — Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Senator Matthew Samuda has expressed “grave concern” over the overwhelming number of inmates in the 11 correctional institutions who are unwilling to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

He bemoaned that while prisoners were among the vulnerable groups, only a paltry 10 per cent of that population has so far stepped forward to take the jab.

“We haven’t got the number of uptake that we would like because the vaccine hesitancy is even more increased in our correctional facilities. So it is something that we are going to have to overcome. I don’t have the exact numbers now… but I would ‘guesstimate’ it is in the range of about 300, which is about 10 per cent of our population, which is not where we want to be… not happy with it,” Samuda stated.

“We can’t force anyone to take it but we made it available. We will not resile from our responsibility of doing everything possible to keep COVID out, we have made it available and we continue to do our best to monitor the protocols to ensure that risk is mitigated,” Samuda went on.

He also lamented over the “unavoidable decision” to deny the inmates visitors at the penal facilities for over a year now, in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.

“There has been no visitation for just over a year, which is a major issue to the psycho-social stability of our institutions and to the individuals, who are inmates and it is something that weighs on me heavily. We can’t allow people to visit “ he noted.

Another measure taken to contain the spread of the disease was to put in place a digital court at Horizon Adult Remand Centre.

“One of the ways we have kept spread so low is because all of the mention dates for those who are indeed remanded at Horizon is actually done digitally now which is a big step in the right direction for us. Even without COVID it is something we needed to do for efficiency, for security and do for a number of different reasons. It is one of the success stories,” Samuda argued. “One will recall that even last year there was a time when court proceedings were suspended.”

The limiting of interactions with inmates who had to attend court was also put in place, Samuda revealed.

“We have had to ensure that all of our facilities have adequate isolation space. So when persons went to court they have to spend 14 days in quarantine. That in and of itself, in a place like a prison where we have inadequate space, is indeed a challenge. That has made us have to use the churches in the space, because each of them have places of worship; we have had to use classrooms, which we didn’t want to, because of isolation. But we have had to do what we believe is our critical responsibility, which is to ensure that those who we have a duty of care are indeed taken care of,” the state minister shared.

Senator Samuda also lamented that the prison inmates were unwilling to embrace the digital platforms made available to them.

“We have made Zoom and telephone lines available to our prisoners; we have even made digital counselling available to our inmates, but we have to be clear these things go against the cultural norm of how correctional institutions work globally so the take up is a different matter. We have made it available but the take up is where we need to be,” he said.

He was speaking last Thursday following a tour of the Private Security Regulation Authority office, which was launched in Montego Bay last year.

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