Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang

Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, JA – Pushed into action by reports that some gang bosses are continuing to operate their criminal enterprises despite being behind bars, the Ministry of National Security has embarked on a massive multifaceted project to shut them down.

In recent months the Jamaica Observer has received reports of a gang leader from Red Hills Road in St Andrew, who had caused residents to flee their communities because of threats issued by thugs acting on his orders from inside a maximum security prison.

There have also been reports of a Spanish Town, St Catherine, gangster whose orders from behind bars have led to several murders in that area.

In addition, a voice note has been circulated recently in which a thug related a message, purportedly from an incarcerated west Kingston gangster to a Jamaican living in the United States, that if a large sum of money was not sent to the gang within days the lives of his entire family was at risk.

Responding to these allegations on Wednesday, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang told the Observer editors and reporters that efforts are now being made to silence these gangsters who are giving orders from prison.

“We have to refurbish a prison [and] it is going to cost us $320 million for them specifically,” said Chang.

“COVID has kind of interrupted it so it is not going to finish in the first half of this year. We are looking at one of the detention centres and changing it into a high-security prison,” added Chang as he refused to say where this facility will be located.

Chang was supported by minister without portfolio in the security ministry Matthew Samuda who declared that the location of the new facility will be kept under wraps for now.

Matthew Samuda, Minister Without Portfolio (centre)

“In essence, we have an old facility that is ideal from a security assessment standpoint. Everybody’s assessment is that it will be the right space. It allows you to use all available technology, even [cellular] blocking technology that allows you to choose if you are letting out anything from a security standpoint,” said Samuda.

He underscored that the Government will be implementing new legislation to allow it more control of what goes into and comes out of the island’s correctional institutions.

“The problem with contraband which facilitates these sorts of conversations is real. There is a legislative issue and we are going to close that gap. Because Parliament is being prorogued [next week] it probably won’t happen in March, it will happen in early April.

“Specifically there are three clauses in the Correctional Act that we will amend to make it a criminal offence to facilitate contraband entering the facility, and being found with contraband. There will be sentencing guidelines that will be specific to electronic devices that facilitate communication,” added Samuda.

“The guy who is using a phone to contact his family because he is feeling detached and has a social need is one issue, but certainly the ones that we know are using it to run their gangs and all that comes with that is why we need the new facility and why we are moving quickly,” he declared.

He argued that there is also a process side to shut down the gangsters and this will need retraining and focus.

According to Samuda, the correctional service has already started to introduce these measures, including trainees conducting searches in the prisons and these have led to formal and informal complaints from inside the facilities.

“So that is the process side, in ensuring that we have the people in the right places to ensure that we can throw the bodies at this problem,” declared Samuda, who added that the technological solution to the issues is being slowed because of the cumbersome procurement in the public sector.

“We have a project that is being jointly funded by the Government of Jamaica and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank), which is the Security Strengthening Project, where the technology elements that will deal with this are in procurement now,” said Samuda.

He added that even while the long-term measures are being implemented, efforts are already under way to clamp down on these gangsters who are issuing orders from inside the prisons.

“In the past two months we have conducted more searches than would have probably been conducted in a four-year, or eight-year period in the size and scope. It has brought about some frustration in the prisoner population and it has had a practical impact to the point where… there is a shortage of ganja in the prisons,” said Samuda.

Observer sources have reported that the price of ganja has skyrocketed in the prisons because of the shortage.