Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – Prime Minister Andrew Holness has acknowledged that despite the efforts of the authorities, high risk prisoners continue to direct their criminal enterprises from behind bars.

He has described the country’s penal institutions as a “national security risk”.

“Too often our intelligence points to crimes being directed from prisons, including the ordering of murders,” Holness said as he made his contribution to the 2022/23 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

He also acknowledged that prisoners are getting help in smuggling cellular phones into the prisons, noting that the phones and other contraband “do not walk into the prisons by themselves”.

“As it stands now, our prisons are a national security risk,” Holness emphasised. He sought to assure that the administration was moving to address the risk, and said the construction of a modern, high security prison was intended to do so.

The prime minister said the plans for the prison, which are being developed by the Jamaica Defence Force, are close to completion.

“We consider this a matter of great urgency …to be expedited through the public investment process,” said Holness. He said that efforts will be made to source the funding to start the project in the upcoming fiscal year which gets underway on April 1.

However, he warned that “regardless of how big we make the walls, [or] the number of cameras we install, and how far we locate the prison. If there’s collusion between guards and prisoners, phones and other contraband will get in and messages and instructions will get out”.

The prime minister said that it was for this reason that the Corrections Act was amended in 2021 to add criminal sanctions to those who facilitate and benefit from the trading in contraband.