The Grenada Revolution Online

Richmond Hill Prison

A line on the first formal prison system in Grenada starts with St. George's Old Drill Yard and subsequently moves into the French military hospital in 1880.

Michael Jessamy, in his book "Forts & Coastal Batteries of Grenada", ©1998. gives this summary of the main building's origins:

"Mt. Cardigan is the parallel ridge at the rear of Richmond Hill standing at an elevation of 550 feet down to 510 feet above sea level. It [the ridge] was once the location of a battlery of 4 guns to respond to the batteries at Hospital Hill and to protect the inside of the harbour.

Richmond Hill Prison
Richmond Hill Prison, appreciation to Peschief, ©2007

In 1788 this area was bought by the local legislature from the Roman Catholic Church, to build the military hospital for the forts . . . The [military] hospital was rebuilt in 1854 after a bush fire burnt the hospital to the ground. After it [the burned-out hospital] was abandoned in the 1850s, attempts were made to convert it [the building] into a lunatic asylum. However, in 1880 it [the building] was converted into the male prison before accommodation was made for the female prisoners in 1901."

You can see this prison clearly from financial complex on the side of the Carenage while facing away from the town of St. George's and looking up to the hill across the water.

The self-titled "first possession-of-ganja prisoner," the late Maurice Paterson, relates this story in his "Big Sky, Little Bullet," first edition:

"I'd already been jailed once against the law in front of a room full of lawyers who knew that jail for Ganja at the time was only mandatory on failure to pay the fine, and I guess I alone did not know then that the law was being broken. Later they had passed a legislative amendment to change the sentence while I was on the hill making new friends among the life-timers and the revolutionaries who didn't know that they were revolutionaries as yet. First Ganja prisoner, me, 1971."

Maurice Bishop publicly announced an initial series of Peoples Laws on 25 March 1979. One of the first ten laws presented the concept of 'preventive detention'.

People's Law Number Eight:


"There shall be established a Preventative Detention Tribunal consisting of not less than three persons appointed by the People's Revolutionary Government, whose functions shall be the review of cases of persons placed in Preventative Detention. Any person who was taken or has threatened to take, or is reasonably suspected of intending to take action of such a nature or on such a scale as is likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community of any substantial portion thereof, supplies or services essential to life is liable on the order of the authority responsible for National Security, to be placed in Preventative Detention.

Any person who was taken or has threatened to take, or is reasonably suspected of intending to take action of such a nature, or on such a scale as is likely to endanger the public safety, or to deprive the community of any substantial portion thereof, supplies or services essential to life is liable on the order of the authority responsible for National Security, to be placed in Preventative Detention provided, however, that a person may within fourteen days of such detention Tribunal for a review of his case end thereafter at periods not later than two months after his previous application.

The Tribunal may at any review of the case of a detained person make recommendations concerning his continued detention or otherwise to the authority by whom it was ordered. But the authority will be under no obligation to act in accordance with any such recommendation."

The matter of "illegally detained prisoners" is a crucial legacy of the Bishop years. Check out The Detainee List.

Richmond Hill Prison
Richmond Hill Prison, Courtesy of Neocell, ©2006

Although seemingly impenetrable, the 1800s fortress-like structure of Richmond Hill Prison was said to have been punctured in 1979. The information appeared in the 17 November 1979 issue of the government-run 'Free West Indian' newspaper. The headline of the article reads - 'Hole in Prison Wall'. Richmond Hill Prison officers discovered a hole dug into the prison wall from the outside. The hole was believed to have gone 18 inches through a 20-inch wall. It was said to be large enough for two men.

When Herbert Blaize was Chief Minister, the 1965 Prisons Ordinance was established. The ordinance was repealed on 29 February 1980 by People's Law No. 11 of 1980 in proclamation of an act to make better provisions for the regulation of Prisons [Gazetted 21 March 1980}.

Part III.14.(7) of Peoples Law No. 11 reads:

"Every member of the Police Force or member of the PRA who is for the time being serving as an escort, or as a guard in or around any prison or lock-up for the purpose of ensuring the safe custody of any prisoner or person detained in a prison or lock-up shell be deemed to have all the powers and privileges granted to prison officers under this section for the purpose of his duties in relation to such prisoner or person."

According to Cotman in his study, 'The Gorrión Tree',

"In July 1980 twenty PRG prison and police staff were trained in Havana."

He explains further:

". . . twenty PRG MININT [Ministry of the Interior] members were trained at the International Police Training School in Havana. Within six months they had graduated with their Nicaraguan classmates. PRG Acting Police Commissioner James Clarkson led the group."

Prevention of Terrorism Act, [People's Law No. 46 of 1980, signed of 29 September 1980 by Maurice Bishop, gazetted 3 October 1980. The law proclaimed the death penalty for acts of political violence and, according to section 17 of the law the person involved in an act " . . . shall be tried on an indictment of the High Court in its criminal jurisdiction and the trial shall be heard by and before a judge sitting alone and there shall be no right of trial by jury."

The tribunal sessions were not successful and in December 1980, according to Sanford,

"It [the Preventive Detention Tribunal] was replaced in its functions by a Security Review Committee headed by Victor Husbands, a special investigator attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, which was better attuned to PRG political criteria for releasing certain types of prisoners."

January, 1981, the New Jewel Movement [NJM] officially formed the PRAF or People's Revolutionary Armed Forces, a body composed of the army, the militia, the police, prison officers, a cadet corps, and similar bodies. The command of these forces was put under the direction General Hudson Austin, who was a former prison guard himself.

Prisoner tales abound, from the humorous to the tragic. Charges of abuse and torture occurred. Escapes and/or attempted escapes happened - check on Prince Nna, Antonio Langdon and others.

There were the deaths related to imprisonment - follow on these names for starters - Ethelbert John and Ralph Thompson. The CBS-NY [Channel 2] May, 1981 three-part report in on week television program by David Marash titled "Prisoner in a Police State" begs for investigation.

Eddie Richardson was beaten in public by prison guards in 1982. By 1982 Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the T&T Bureau on Human Rights were making inquiries about prisoner and prison conditions. Each instance and the personalities related to the event is a story to be written.

"On the Hill" or "up the Hill" are terms referring to Richmond Hill Prison. The main prison today is a huge complex. A partial list of previous commissioners and acting commissioners, working backwards to the early 1980s, have been Wesley Beggs, Don McKenzie, Roy Raymond, Leroy Cadore, Winston Courtney, Lionel Maloney.

The primary building complex includes a visiting area, medical office, 'remand' area for those incarcerated awaiting legal proceedings, tailor and woodwork shops, library, classrooms. The prison bakery produces 700 loaves daily, and rumour is this is some of the best bread on the island. One work detail is farming where inmates raise livestock and grow crops used in prison kitchens. Following Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004, the Richmond Hill Prison buildings had serious structural damage.

Richmond Hill Prison is part of a system of prison facilities called Richmond Hill Prisons. There were prisoner sections at parish police stations - like St. David's. Auxillary facilities for incarceration of prisoners, came and went over time - like Mt. Royal and Ft. Rupert.

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons" - Dostoevsky

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
have been established by UNESCO.

Letter Concerning Prison Conditions 2003

Next: UNESCO Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoner Treatment

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