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Saint Lucia Prison Officers campaign against re-appointment of former Director of Prisons, 2009
Over a period of two months in 2009, Saint Lucia prison officers organized a petition and a sick-in to protest the return of a former Director of Prisons. Hillary Herman had voluntarily left his position as Director of Prisons in 2008 (after a 7-year stay in the position). Most of the prison officers at Bordelais corrections facility in St. Lucia did not want Herman to come back. They found his strict methods to be inefficient and unfair. The goal of their campaign was to prevent Herman from returning to Bordelais as Director of Prisons, since the prison was seeking to rehire him after some behavioral issues within the prison. The Correction Workers Welfare Association supported the campaign.
On September 12, 2009, members of the prison staff association and two senior officers met to discuss a resistance campaign to the return of Herman to Bordelais, after hearing reports of his impending return. The prison staff association, led by Chris Felix passed around a petition protesting Herman’s return, on which they claim to have received approximately 80 percent (83 prison officers) of the staff’s signatures. They sent this petition to the Saint Lucia Government. On September 17, the prison officers met with Home Affairs Minister Guy Mayers to discuss their opposition to Hillary Herman being the Director of Prisons. But Mayers informed the officers that they did not have the authority to decide who would be the boss of Bordelais. In response to the meeting, on September 20, the officers held a second staff meeting, and they discussed the possibility of a sick-in.
During the month of September, the Public Service Commission was still considering whether they would hire back Herman, especially after the negative reactions coming from the prison officers. In the meantime, they hired a temporary deputy Director of Corrections: Victoria Alcide. Alcide replaced assistant director Rene Frederick as acting Director. Frederick was one of two senior prison officers who openly opposed Herman’s return. Most senior prison administrators sided with Herman.
On September 30, the officers began a sick-in. The sick-in lasted approximately two months, where officers would repeatedly call out sick to show the Public Service Commission how the prison would function if Herman took over. Over time, fewer officers participated in the sick-in. At the start of the sick-in, reports spread stating that officers attempted to disrupt the water supply at the prison in order to enrage the prisoners into revolt against the prison. This story returned in mid-October, as Chris Felix (President of the Officers Welfare Association) defended the prison officers. At a press conference, Felix insisted that these claims were simply part of a propaganda scheme by the Home Affairs Minister to reduce support for the prison officers. Felix also claimed that the propaganda scheme included blaming the officers for various lies, such as instigating the inmates.
The Officers Welfare Association began making comments to the press regarding the sick-in and Herman in general. In response, the National Security Minister, Mayers, called on the Association members to restrain their temper in these comments. The St. Lucia Labour Party gave some support to the Officers Welfare Association as well. The various groups, in explanation of their campaign, claimed that although Herman was publicly perceived as an excellent disciplinarian, many corrupt prison officers could easily find loopholes in his system, that his allowance system lowered the standard of service, and that his system forced officers to compete against one another.
The prison officers were additionally incensed about allowances. The government would not raise their allowances. The Officers Welfare Association wrote to the Prime Minister regarding this matter. This additional issue simply furthered the prison officers’ anger towards the opposition, especially because before Herman had left Bordelais the previous year, he had made a counter-proposal to the officers’ allowance proposal.
On November 18, 2009, Herman returned to Bordelais. In an attempt to gain allies in the prison, he set out a platform of goals that would potentially benefit the prison officers and prisoners as well (such as investing in better kitchen equipment and fixing the overcrowding problem). Yet, prison officers were angry at Herman’s return and even continued the sick-in at least one week after Herman’s return. Since this ordeal, prison officers’ performance has been less than satisfactory, seeing as various prisoners have escaped.