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Jun 30, 1999

New sup makes changes at prison

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The four men charged with Samantha Gordon’s murder today will join over a thousand men and women at the Hattieville Prison awaiting trial or serving sentences for various crimes. But while most agree that going to prison is intended as punishment, there have been complaints that the new Superintendent Keith Hamilton is being too strict with the inmates and taking away privileges they previously enjoyed. He says he was hired to whip the place into shape. And that’s not going to be easy for an overcrowded facility known for frequent escapes and easy access to drugs. News Five was in Hattieville this week for a tour of the prison and an update on the changes underway.

Since the Hattieville Correctional Institution was opened in 1994 its image has been tainted by numerous breakouts, fights and drug seizures. To get some control of the situation Keith Hamilton, the institution’s new superintendent has instituted a number of programs he believes will restore the care, custody and control of the prison.

Q: “When you came on board, what did you see immediately that you said, ah ah, this can’t work, you would have to make changes? What didn’t you like when you came here?

Keith Hamilton, Superintendent of Prisons

“The overall running of the place and the security aspect of it. In my view there was the dire need to implement some immediate change and this is in process.”

One immediate and visible change is in the appearance of the

the inmates. The men and women are now required to use their uniform at all times.

Keith Hamilton, Superintendent of Prisons

“First of all to be dressed appropriately in the uniform provided by the department and we are requiring that they should wear their shirts inside their trousers to help build their self esteem and some discipline.”

A month ago a new program began to address the problem of drug trafficking within the system. There have already been arrests.

Keith Hamilton

“As a result of one exercise we discovered a pound of compressed marijuana at the back of one of the buildings. We opened it and found the contents. A few days after, under the same suppression scheme, we found two inmates coming off a work program in Belize City with two half pounds of drugs each. They have been confiscated. The latest find we have had regarding drugs was found in a container with these foam packages with food. We searched this container and found some fruits. Looking at the fruits they looked normal, natural but on close examination we found that they contained drugs stuffed in them.”

However the changes have not come without criticism.

Keith Hamilton

“One of the changes is this complaint about inmates not getting things from their loved ones. What I am saying is, yes, you can bring food and other items but it will come under strict scrutiny at the control or entry point. So if you are going to bring food it has to be dissected.”

Q: “Another change you have done and I think you are aware you have received some flak on this, is the removal of electrical appliances in some cells. Why was there a need to do this?”

“Well first of all there were electrical appliances in most cells and the facility had been suffering from low voltage. We had the B.E.L. employees do a security survey of energy supplies and they have advised us of some findings and so we are forced to take some steps.

What is happening is that these stoves that these men were accustomed to using will gradually be phased out. I don’t want to do it in one shot so we are doing it in phases and trying to put something in place to relieve the distraction.”

Inmates are still involved in an ongoing farming program as well as other outdoor activities. According to the institution’s residents, they welcome the new changes although there is still the need for more educational programs.

Inmate #1

“We realize that this is prison. We have to take it as it comes. I don’t really have any opinion about what I don’t like. Everything is alright because I am here in an institution I have to take it as it comes.”

Inmate #2

“They used to like abuse people, the officers them.”

Q: “Abuse you how?”

Inmate #2

“They tell you do something and if you don’t do it they rough you up… a lot of things.”

Inmate #3

“I want something to do in the building and thing.”

Q: “So there are no programs in place?”

Inmate #3

“No programs in place. They are just now trying to put some programs together. Let us learn, some schooling and things. Sports. They are just now trying to put the programs together.”

While the inmates await the promised educational programs, some of them are already acquiring skills that will become necessary once they leave the institution.

Harriet Anderson, O.I.C., Female Section

“They are learning cooking, the making of bread, sewing and they are involved with cleaning of the old folks home. We are trying to get them involved with other programs outside.”

No doubt the women’s job will be made a little bit easier with the new bakery which is to open soon. But besides trying to make the inmates’ lives more productive, Hamilton and the Department of Corrections are also battling a larger problem: overcrowding. With over a thousand inmates crammed into the facility there is a dire need for more room and several additional buildings are under construction. But more space won’t fix all the problems at the Hattieville facility and the staff can’t turn things around on their own. Hamilton is asking for public support.

Keith Hamilton

“The public needs to understand that what we are doing here is to rehabilitate those that are here, those that have shown the willingness, the aptitude to be given a second chance in society. And every energy will be focused towards this and they need to understand; they need to visit the facility and to interact and work with the system.”

Hamilton says he is committed to making a difference at the prison and invites the public and the business community to get involved in the process.

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