By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
NASSAU, Bahamas — A two-hour documentary entitled “Sentenced to Suffer” exposing conditions at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) and the state of some of the inmates housed there has given viewers a glimpse of the desperately cramped, unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the facility.
The BDCS, formerly Her Majesty’s Prison before a name change 2013, has been under scrutiny over the past several months following a series of leaked images from the prison in April 2018 showing inmates using drugs and other contraband.
Video footage leaked from the prison at that time showed a glimpse of how prisoners were cramped in a dirty, dark and dank cell with no ventilation, lack of running water and sanitation facilities.
During the damning EyeWitness documentary, one inmate interviewed behind bars with his three other cellmates alongside him, claimed that every inmate has one bucket for themselves that they have to use to wash, sometimes bath and prepare themselves.
The inmate claimed that on a day he has to wash his clothes, he can do nothing else and has to wait for another day to have his bucket cleaned to have it for use again for other purposes.
The prison is rank with the smell of faeces and urine, another inmate described, as flies hovered around the door of his cell and bucket. There is no ventilation and the only outside air they receive is from the windows about five feet away from their cell doors that allow a breeze to blow through.
While the documentary did show evidence of some normal life for some inmates, at one time showing prayer and worship time, the sense that it was an appalling indictment of the relevant authorities is still fresh in the mind.
Overcrowding has been a serious issue in the prison over the last ten-plus years, something that has only gotten worse.
Before the name change in 2013, it was reported that there were over 1,500 inmates at the BDCS, twice the amount that the prison compound was supposed to hold. Of that number, 92 people are awaiting trial for murder; 200 inmates are under the age of 17 – 44 of whom are 16-years-old.
As of December, 2017 the total amount of prisoners was given as 1,746 – a 16 percent increase between 2013 to the end of 2017.
In a recent dataset of over 180 countries surveyed and analysed by the World Prison Brief, the top five countries in the Caribbean per prison occupancy rate are: US Virgin Islands, 542 (4th, world); Cuba, 510 (6th, world); British Virgin Islands, 470 (9th, world); and The Bahamas, 438 (11th, world).
In the same WPB data series, it was revealed that, specifically for the Caribbean, the worst five countries per prison occupancy rates, the rate at which a country can reasonably house inmates based on humane standards, size and scope are: Haiti, 454.4% (2nd, world); Grenada, 234.8% (12th, world); Antigua and Barbuda, 226.7% (15th, world); Dominican Republic, 188.5% (29th, world); and The Bahamas, 172.7% (34th, world).
Security reforms and security breaches are also on the minds of prisoners and prison staff, as many claim that inmates have died in prison due to fights and a lack of manpower to supervise the various prison cliques and gangs and, as of late, prison guards and staff have been arrested and charged with trafficking in contraband into the prison.
A subsequent lockdown and shakedown occurred after the leaked inmate videos in April, in conjunction with members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force, when numerous amounts of contraband including cell phones, drugs and makeshift weapons were discovered.
There are no recent indications as to what the prison authorities and/or the central government plan to do about the situation, but there is land extended to the prison for an increase in size and space but funding may become a factor.
Security features were supposed to have been enhanced after the name change in 2013, but observers have suggested that the name change was cosmetic in nature, along with the refurbishment of the outside walls and gates, but the same internal mechanisms from manual doors, lack of sanitation and running water, in addition to the unclean and unhealthy way prison meals are prepared and transported to inmates, has not changed or gotten worse.