WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24: Fundamental changes to the way Bermuda’s prison operates have been proposed, in a bid to avoid a strike at Westgate.
Officers have called off plans for industrial action after Government put forward a blueprint for change.
Craig Clarke, head of the Prison Officers Association, said the 21-day-notice of intent to strike had been taken off the table.
He confirmed that officers had voted for industrial action at a meeting earlier this month.
But he said they had agreed to accept Government’s proposals after a meeting on Monday.
“The industrial action will be called off,” he told the Bermuda Sun.
He said he was “ecstatic” that Attorney General Michael Scott and Permanent Secretary Kathy Lightbourne-Simmons, had listened to the officers’ concerns and jointly agreed a way forward.
“They understand we have some issues and they are willing to fix it,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easy but the majority of inmates and officers will be satisfied with how we operate.
“We have meaningful ideas, Government has meaningful ideas.
“They have come up with a document and a timeline that we are happy with and I think we will have a Department of Corrections that Bermuda can be proud of.”
He said the dispute was “never about pay” but concerned officers’ frustration about the way the prison was run.
It is understood that new ideas could involve the Ministry of Education and the National Training Board being involved in aspects of inmate rehabilitation.
Mr Clarke added: “We need a paradigm shift in terms of how we operate and manage our inmates — it has to be done and it will be done.”
He said other ministries — particularly Education — had to be involved in the rehabilitation process.
Officers felt that funds had been plowed into the police and the legislature but that the Department of Corrections had been overlooked.
“People wonder why recidivism rates are so high — they might say the numbers have gone down but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter which way you colour it.
“I see the same faces coming back year after year. Somewhere along the line we are failing.”
Mr Clarke declined to go into detail about what the changes would entail.
But he said the plan was to make officers’ responsibilities clearer and to make the prison a bigger part of the rehabilitation process.
“I think the prison is going to become a more dynamic place to work and a safer environment to rehabilitate inmates under our charge.”
He accepted there were “operational areas we have to strengthen”. But he credited the Government for acting quickly.
“We have sat back and allowed things to fester and there are high levels of frustration.
“But this Attorney General and this permanent secretary are putting their ear to the ground and starting to realize this is not about us wanting things, it is about taking the Department of Corrections to the next level.”