What has changed in the prison system since the US State Department’s report of 1999?

Dear Editor,

The computer technicians were able to save some of my files after my computer crashed, and now that I have it back, I took the time to see what files were saved and also to decide on some ‘clean-up.’ I wonder how many of us do a clean-up of the files stored on their computers!

Anyway one of the rescued files was the 1999 report on Human Rights Practices in Guyana, and before trashing it I did a reread and found some matters which seem to still exist today. These all relate to the prison system. Now just in case some readers do not get to the end of this letter, my questions are:

1. Has the Government of Guyana any definitive plan to ease the overcrowding at the Georgetown prison?

2. Was Mr Gomes allowed, or was he able, to do the clean up of the Brickdam holding cells as he publicly stated he wanted to or would do?

3. Does the Government of Guyana ever pay attention to such international reports?

Here is an extract from the US Department of State’s 1999 report on Human Rights Practices in Guyana. Readers I am sure would find it amazing that much of what existed then still exists today but probably at a worse level.

“Prison conditions are poor, especially in police holding cells. Georgetown’s Camp Street Prison, the country’s largest, is extremely overcrowded. For most of the year, Camp Street held between 900 and 1,100 prisoners in space initially designed to hold 350. Conditions in the country’s four smaller prisons generally are adequate. The only women’s prison is at New Amsterdam, in a facility that holds men and women in separate dormitory-type buildings. In 1997 when the Director of Prisons reported that a prisoner had died in part due to overcrowding at the Camp Street Prison, the Government responded by assigning more full-time nurse practitioners and pharmacists to the prison system and by requiring that doctors visit prisons more regularly. Prison directors and inmates reported that over the course of the year, medical coverage improved. The authorities reported no deaths related to prison conditions during the year. However, the GHRA still questioned the Government’s commitment and continued to push it to improve health care in the prison system.

In addition to overcrowding and a lack of medical personnel, poor staff morale is a serious problem within the prison system. Prison staffers are poorly paid and their salaries and benefits are insufficient to compensate for the on-the-job risks. Prison officials lobbied the Government for increased funding to improve prison conditions. Prison officials also encouraged efforts by local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) to improve physical and sanitary conditions.

“Although sanitary and medical conditions in police station temporary holding facilities vary, in almost all cases these conditions are worse than those in the prisons. Some such jails are bare, overcrowded, and damp. Few have beds, washbasins, furniture, or utensils. Meals are normally unavailable; friends and relatives must bring detainees food and water. Cells rarely have sanitary facilities, and inmates sometimes are escorted by staff members outside the cells to use holes in the floor for toilets. Inmates generally sleep on a thin pallet on the concrete floor. Conditions in the East La Penitence police jail, where female prisoners are held until sentencing, are below the standard of the other jails and prisons in the country. The Brickdam lock-up in Georgetown has poor sanitation and dangerous conditions. One cell without plumbing or other facilities typically holds up to 30 detainees and is often the site of violence between inmates. Although precinct jails are intended to serve only as pretrial holding areas, some suspects have been detained there as long as 4 years, waiting for the overburdened judicial system to take action on their cases.”

Yours faithfully,
Carl Veecock

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