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Munroe: COA gun decision highlights need for prison upgrades

Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe said part of the overhaul of facilities and conditions at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDOCS) includes medical upgrades so that a prisoner’s health will not factor as heavily into whether they are released.

Munroe was contacted for comment after the Court of Appeal on Monday sentenced an American man, Ralph Ronald Moorhead, to three days’ imprisonment for a firearms conviction due to his severe Type 1 diabetes.

A magistrate had previously sentenced Moorhead to 12 months’ imprisonment.

Moorhead has already served his three-day prison sentence, since it’s the length of time that he spent in custody before he was released on $10,000 cash bail on June 24, pending an appeal of his sentence.

Police arrested Moorhead, 53, at Leonard Thompson International Airport after a .380 pistol and five rounds of ammunition for the weapon were found in his checked luggage on June 21. Moorhead has a license to carry the weapon in the United States.

Moorhead told the court he had an insulin pod embedded in his stomach that had to be replaced every 36 hours or he would need to have insulin manually administered.

He explained to the court that his pancreas makes no insulin.

He said he also wore a sensor on his left arm that was connected to his cell phone so that he could monitor his glucose levels, which would often fall to a level that required someone else to assist him in getting the right amount of sugar into his body.

The BDOCS Acting Commissioner Doan Cleare confirmed in an affidavit that BDCOS was not equipped to attend to Moorhead’s medical needs.

Munroe, who said he read the ruling, explained that he understood the court’s rationale.

“We are moving to try to improve the prison so that in the future this couldn’t be a reason,” he said.

“So, for instance, if you go to federal prison in the US, you could have any disease and they have a federal prison they can send you to, to be treated.

“We don’t have that luxury.

“So, a part of improving the circumstance of the prison is so there are fewer and fewer people who could say that.”

Munroe, a king’s counsel, said he has found that, “The Ministry of Health, the public health authority, isn’t very keen to have inmates in their facilities.

“A part of what we were looking at trying to have in the new prison, we’re looking at constructing … a medical wing where you could have simple surgeries and that done so people don’t have to be taken down to the hospital.

“But we’re meeting some resistance from Ministry of Health, public health authorities, with that, but it’s just a matter of what resources you’re going to put.”

Munroe said the prison has to be careful about patient safety, particularly if they do not pose a significant threat.

“A big part of the decision was that the firearm actually was a licensed firearm, that he had a license for it in the US,” he said.

“I don’t want people to overlook that. The court was very big on that. If he was a terrorist, he would probably have been retained and it would have been worth our while to hire a prison officer to probably be in his cell, next door, so when the phone went off he could give him the sugar.

“There are some conditions we can’t manage in the prison, very few, but there are some.

“And over time, people have been released early over it too.

“When you have people coming down to late-stage cancer, quite often they’re not retained in prison because you just don’t have the ability to keep the cells as clean as they need to be and [all] that.

“But I’m hearing that people think this is a phenomenon unique to this person and it’s not.”

The question of liability is also a factor, according to Munroe.

“Having read the case, it is just a situation that if a prisoner dies in the prison because the prison can’t care for him, the commissioner of the prison and the chief medical officer will probably end up before the court charged with manslaughter,” he said.

“So, they have to make decisions as to whether they can look after people or not.

“This isn’t the first time sentences have been affected because of the inability to manage prisoners for particular health reasons.

“I did a matter where a sentence was reduced by two years, and the guy was released, a Bahamian, because the prison couldn’t satisfy then-Senior Justice Jon Isaacs that they could properly care for the chap.

“So, decisions always have to be made about whether or not you can manage a particular inmate given their circumstances.”