The officers responsible for manning the island’s prisons are today locked in talks to discuss their next course of action in protracted talks with the Bermuda Government for a new wage agreement for the Department of Corrections.

Members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) gathered for a general membership meeting that got underway at 10am this morning, to discuss their options now that prison officers are heading into a tenth year of working without a new wage agreement.

But this time around there’s another big issue on the table and that’s the issue of health insurance, which historically, has been fully paid by the Government for prison officers, police and firefighters.

Bermuda Real can also disclose that prison officers were more than displeased going into today’s meeting knowing that another group of Government workers has been granted a second pay scale adjustment – another raise, when they have yet to receive a pay increase once in the past ten years.

In an exclusive, extended live interview with POA chairman, Timothy Seon on Fresh TV on Tuesday, the association’s leader stated outright that he will be led by his membership, who may decide to exercise their right to issue Government with notice of industrial action.

Whether in fact that will be the case was the main subject of discussion behind closed doors this morning in the POA general membership meeting.

When contacted by Bermuda Real last night, Mr Seon stated that the outcome of today’s meeting will be relayed to Government later today, when the POA Executive meets with the Government negotiating team later today.

What that outcome will be by the 184 prison officers employed by the Department of Corrections remains to be seen. And we’ll keep you posted.

Mr Seon, who was joined by the POA’s lead negotiator Thad Hollis in the interview aired live on Tuesday, stated that the negotiations and subsequent agreements that ensued over the past 20 years have resulted in little, if any progress.

That coupled with the fact that officers have been working on a 24-hour schedule that requires at least 243 officers for that schedule to work with a team of 184 prison officers.

The POA has consistently asked for 30 new recruits at a time and end up with roughly 20, a problem compounded by retirement, which means overtime becomes a vicious circle, compounded again by sick leave.

Another major bone of contention is the increasing number of violent offenders who are also mentally ill and dangerous.

One such prisoner was recently sent to a psychiatric hospital in the UK equipped to deal with violent inmates in the UK at a cost of $250,000 to local taxpayers for one inmate.

Put that number against the backdrop of no raise in ten years and the POA will tell you point blank, the department’s prison officers are not happy with the fact that they are left to deal with these inmates 24 hours a day in what they term a mental dumping ground at Westgate.

Additionally, due to the fact that the actual building is now 25 years old, the POA maintains that the building is literally falling apart and that it is filled with mould, which is causing severe health issues inside prison walls.

We’ll have the full interview uploaded on our website in due course. And in the interim, we’ll keep you up to date on the latest regarding today’s developments as the day proceeds.