Bar Association Demands Belize Central Prison Address Inmate Rights Violations

Bar Association Demands Belize Central Prison Address Inmate Rights Violations

The Bar Association of Belize is calling on the Belize Central Prison to address the concerns raised by attorney Leslie Mendez about the rights of the inmates being violated. According to Mendez, the guards denied her access to meet with an inmate, saying that her skirt was too short which violates the prison dress code.  She contends that the guards selectively applied the dress code after she refused to have them search confidential documents, pertaining to claims being filed against the prison’s parole board. The incident happened 40 days ago, but it is only today that the association issued a statement saying that the dress code violation was not its concern but rather the implication that inmates were being denied access to legal counsel. In its statement, the association wrote, quote, “it is important for us to state that it would be gravely concerning if the Belize Central Prison, or any of its employees, used underhanded and veiled tactics to undermine the legal rights of incarcerated prisoners, especially their right to speak with their legal representatives. The rules of the Belize Central Prison are not to be used to humiliate legal representatives or to detract from meaningful representation of those incarcerated,” End of quote. Director of the prison, Virgilio Murillo says he was blindsided that the issue made the news this week, as he felt he and Mendez had settled the matter back in May. He maintains that prisons all over the world have strict dress codes which are enforced regardless of who enters the compound. Murillo says that the assertion that the guards were responding to the claim against the parole board is simply not true.

Virgilio Murillo, Director, Belize Central Prison: “I reviewed my text and I noticed it was from May the 1st. And yeah, we vented. She told me how dissatisfied she was. And I said to her, you know, sorry but it’s an environment. She obviously had a skirt that was above the knee. And even what you call black stockings on, you know, it was still not appropriate. And certainly the skirt in addition to being above the knee, it certainly had a split in the front. So that is not conducive to the prison. And we had to, we either have a policy or we don’t have one. And that was the position of the prison. So we didn’t want her to visit the inmate like that. You know, the assertion that the prison is using that to humiliate or deny, humiliate the attorney because I saw that too, or deny the prisoner his right to access to legal representation I mean, first and foremost, I want to clarify that this prisoner is currently serving a sentence. He has been duly convicted of committing a heinous crime out in the society and he’s serving a sentence for that. And his sentence has yet to run until another few years from today. So it’s not that he hasn’t been convicted or he’s awaiting trial. So that first and foremost. And the legal representation that he’s now seeking is that of trying to obtain his parole. And, you know, but the people, the guards, the officers that are at the checkpoint under no circumstance, because I saw something to the effect where she’s saying that she believes or she thinks that we’re doing that because she’s taking the parole board to court. The officers that I have at the checkpoint there, they are not even aware that there’s any suit coming from Ms. Mendez against the parole board because it’s not against Kolbe per se, it is against the parole board. Because those are things that are not discussed with my junior staff. That is pretty much something that is between myself as the director and my other colleagues that sit on the parole board.”

Murillo also said that Mendez has been making visits to the prison for around ten years and was acquainted with the regulations.

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