Mike Freer (third from right), the United Kingdom parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, visits His Majesty’s Prison along with Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley and Governor John Rankin (Photo: GIS).

The United Kingdom will continue working to support His Majesty’s Prison, the police force, and other aspects of the Virgin Islands justice system, a senior official said following a visit earlier this month.

Mike Freer, the UK’s parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, visited the territory from Nov. 5-8 as part of efforts to see “firsthand the opportunities and challenges in the BVI justice system and to identify opportunities for further partnership with the UK,” according to a press release issued on the last day of his visit.

On Nov. 6, Mr. Freer met with Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley about overcrowding and inmate rehabilitation at His Majesty’s Prison at Balsam Ghut, which has experienced significant security, overcrowding and staffing issues in recent years.

“The challenges that law enforcement agencies face are not unique, and we must work in partnership to deal with them,” Mr. Freer said. “The UK Ministry of Justice is committed to supporting HMP Balsam Ghut. Over the past 12 months we have provided training, personnel support and equipment.”

The same day, Mr. Freer also visited the prison with Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley. HMP has suffered from security issues for more than a decade, but the situation worsened markedly after the facility was severely damaged during the 2017 hurricanes and more than 100 inmates walked out (almost all of them later returned or were recaptured).

Fatal stabbing

Additionally, an inmate, Nickail Chambers, was fatally stabbed in a May 30, 2021, fight at the facility. Five inmates, two prison officers and a member of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force were charged in connection with the incident.

Commission of Inquiry

In his 2022 Commission of Inquiry report, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom called for a review of His Majesty’s Prison Service as part of a wider review of the VI justice system. That review is on going.

In addition to his focus on the prison, Mr. Freer met with officials from the RVIPF, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and the judiciary.

Marine Unit tour

He also toured the RVIPF’s Marine Unit on Nov. 7 and met with students at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College for a “lively discussion on parliamentary democracy” alongside Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro as part of UK Parliament Week, according to the press release.