A hacksaw was used in the escape bid of the six high-profile prisoners on Sunday morning, according to Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee who said that even though the inmates got out of their cells and one reached as far as Rasville there was no major breach of the regulations at Camp Street and credit should be given for the quick reaction by members of the joint services.
At his end-of-year press conference yesterday, Rohee was asked whether he felt there was a breach of the regulations since the prisoners, most of whom are said to have had links to the now dead Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins, managed to leave their cells and one of them, Sherwin Moses also known as Sherwin Nero made it on foot all the way to Rasville.
“No it is not,” the minister insisted. “Where was the major breach of the rules and regulations? The prisoners got possession of a hacksaw. They obviously sawed at that bar or those bars over a period of time to make sure it doesn’t make noise; to make sure it was not detected. You have to understand the mentality of a prisoner; he is a very sly person.
“They do things to make sure they are not detected. But as far as the rules and regulations are concerned, when they were found outside their cells the prison officers responded in accordance with the standard operation procedures: they raised the alarm, the siren was sounded, shots were fired, police and the army, joint services were called in, everything were followed in accordance with the book. Where were the rules and regulations breached insofar as a prisoner getting possession of a hacksaw, [and] quietly and secretly sawing at bars to get out of the prison?”
When it was pointed out to him that Moses, who is charged with the murder of Guyana Defence Force soldier Ivor Williams and Cove and John resident Kumar Singh managed to scale the north eastern fence of the Camp Street jail around 4 am on Sunday and make it to Rasville, the minister rebutted that the man was recaptured and focus should be placed on the five who were recaptured in the prison compound.
The other five were Denis ‘Anaconda’ Williams, a suspect in the recent GuySuCo payroll heist and the Bartica massacre; Royden ‘Smallie’ Durant also charged with the murder of the soldier and the Lusignan massacre; Jermaine Savory, charged with the murder at Agricola of Melissa Payne and Paul Bagot; and Royden Williams known as Royden Durant. The police on Sunday had said that an alert prison officer had observed the men making efforts to scale the outer wall of the prison and sounded an alarm. The five were recaptured while Moses successfully got over the wall and was recaptured in Rasville around two hours later. All six men are now isolated from the rest of the prison population and Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine had said on Sunday that the prison was on a ‘lock-down’.
The most recent bid by the dangerous six would have brought back memories of the 2002 successful escape of five dangerous prisoners who spearheaded a crime wave, the likes of which were never seen before in this country. One prison officer was killed and another maimed for life during the escape. An inquiry was held following that escape, led by head of the Police Complainant Authority (PCA) Cecil Kennard and following its conclusion some 41 recommendations were made. These included the establishment of a prison inspectorate to investigate complaints, to inspect the security measures in place and equipment on hand at the country’s prisons; the reduction of the officer-to-prisoner ratio to allow for the recruitment of more staff; and the injection of new blood into the prison service including the recruitment of members from the other disciplined services.
The report had also recommended that using money confiscated from the prisoners for administrative and other purposes should cease and that cash should be paid into revenue. It said the procedures for appointing orderlies should be strictly enforced and this was to ensure that the officer in charge knew who was selected. One of the escapees, Shawn Brown, was at one time an orderly.
It also recommended that two or more officers, one of whom should be a male, should be on duty at all times in the Operations Room and that no officer who is not trained to use a firearm should be issued with one as this had been the case on the day of the escape. Among the other recommendations too were random searches of prison officers, placing a walkthrough and x-ray scanner at the front gate, dressing high-profile prisoners in special colours so that they are easily identified, and the posting of a male armed sentry on duty daily in front of the front gate from the unlock to the final lockdown.
In 2003, while testifying before the Disciplined Services Commission, Erskine had stated that 95% of the recommendations were implemented at the prisons; yet incidents such as one on Sunday continue to occur.
‘Give credit where it is due’
Yesterday Rohee said focus should not be placed on Moses but rather on the five others who were recaptured and credit should be given to the members of the joint services.
“Let’s give credit. Hey, let’s give some credit here; five were caught in the compound. I think we must give credit where credit is due. Five were caught in the compound, let’s focus on these five. One was caught eventually in a matter of hours and I think credit must be given to the law enforcement agencies who were able to track him down quickly, catch him and bring him back,” the minister said.
He pointed out to the lengths Moses went to escape and described his escape bid as “sadistic” since he was willing to cut himself all over by climbing over the fence that has razor wire at the top.
“Imagine a person psychologically and physically is prepared to cut himself with razor wire to escape from a prison and to walk that distance. Balance that off with law enforcement agencies that have similar determination. So you have two determinations here; one a prisoner determined to escape even if it means harming himself physically to the extent of cutting himself all over in a kind of sadistic act and law enforcement agencies equally determined to go after that one prisoner and eventually catching him. I think you must give credit where it is due.”
While the minister said he is concerned with the recent escape bid and the others that would have occurred during the year, one should bear in mind the reality of the prison system which is that prisoners “will always, will always plan to escape from imprisonment”. He pointed out that the plans could be executed from within the prison walls or while they are outside doing other duties.
“So that inmates wishing to escape from prison will always be a challenge that we will be confronted with and we have to be very clear in our minds that prisoners would always be plotting and planning to escape. What we have to have is good intelligence in the prison. We have to have 24-hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year effective security of the prison so that attempts to escape are thwarted; prisoners who escape are quickly caught and dealt with… in a manner that other prisoners will see as a deterrent to escaping from captivation,” the minister said..
‘Access to instruments’
Rohee was asked about the fact that prisoners seemed to have ready access to instruments which aid them in their escape bids. He said that regular checks are made of prisoners, but there are reports that prisoners are assisted by persons when they attend court and items are passed to them when they are returning from court to prison.
There are also allegations that there is collusion between prison officers and prisoners to get things smuggled into the prison. “I am saying once you are dealing with a prison environment you have to expect, don’t be surprised by the unexpected. Prisoners would always be plotting and planning how to smuggle cell phones, which a major challenge now in the prison, smuggle or to produce things like jukkers [a crude hand-made pointed weapon]; how to get hacksaw blade into the prison.”
According to the minister, the smuggling of items into prisons, while it should not be accepted, was normal in most prisons around the world.
“…I am saying we should not be surprised when prisoners seek to smuggle these things or to produce these things in the prisons in order to advance their own interest. Hacksaw is a normal thing which is smuggled; we see it in the movies. I am not saying that is a movie thing that played out [on Sunday] but we read it in the novels also. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear about these things but we must constantly make and do the searches to deprive them of these tools to either attack each other, use it to saw off grills, or steel bars and escape from the prison.”
Meanwhile, the minister said one of the things that he is very concerned about is the constant finding of cell phones in the prison.
“I am very concerned about that. Now prisoners have been resorting to all kinds of innovative ways of getting cell phones into the prison and some of them disguise it in foods, some of them put in the soles of shoes, put in their butts, you would be surprised to see how a cell phone can fit in a man’s butt and he smuggle it in. So they use all kinds of innovative ways to get these things into the prison, so much so that it can be harmful to their own physical health.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Rohee said during the year while there were a few incidents that “are not worthy of mention at this time”, the Guyana Prison Service has been able to remain focused on its goals in spite of the constraints it faced.
The incidents not worthy of mention that the minister referred to included Sunday’s escape bid, which he did not mention until specifically questioned, as well as others such as the July 30 escape of murder accused Trevor Major from a moving prison van after reportedly picking the lock on the handcuffs he was wearing. There were also several escapes by prisoners who were under guard at hospitals.
According to the minister, the prisons received several high-profile prisoners, products of the ‘Fineman’ and other gangs, and this necessitated an increase in the security arrangements. He said the government has initiated action aimed at increasing and improving the accommodation at the prisons.
Other challenges include the inadequate staff situation as a result of attrition owing to a variety of reasons including retirements. There is also the challenge of housing of high-profile prisoners and the long time it takes for matters involving remand prisoners to be finalised.
Meanwhile, it is hoped that in the new year the prison service will develop its human resource capacity, intensify training and that the new capital dormitory would be completed. Also expected is the enhancement of training of inmates and the expansion of the agriculture drive of the prison service in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture.