Fire-fighters were summoned to the Georgetown Prisons yesterday afternoon after several inmates set mattresses ablaze in the western section of the facility.
The incident occurred some time before 5 pm and it was a Camp Street resident, this newspaper understands, who first saw flames and smoke coming from the building. An alarm was immediately raised and fire-fighters summoned.
When Stabroek News arrived at the scene yesterday two fire tenders were present and several investigators had already entered the prison compound. There were also armed ranks outside the prison’s entrance on Camp Street.
Several senior police officers were also there. However, when questioned about the situation in the prison, they declined to comment.
Fire Chief Marlon Gentle, when contacted via telephone, said that his department received a call to respond to a situation at the Georgetown Prison.
“We arrived there but we were not required to go into action,” he explained. “The prison authority had already dealt with the situation.”
A woman, who vends in vicinity of the prison, said that the flames and smoke were seen coming from a section of the building at the “Camp and D’Urban street” corner. The flames, she said, soon disappeared and there was some smoke which then faded.
“Everything happen so quick… all of a sudden there was one set ah police here and then de two fire truck reach and we deh wondering is wah happening,” a man who works close to the location told Stabroek News.
These reports remained unconfirmed by police and the prison authority up to last evening. Several efforts made to reach Director of Prisons Dale Erskine for a comment were futile. Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee was also unavailable.
Later, sources informed this newspaper that three inmates had set fire to mattresses.
It is unclear, the source said, how the inmates were able to accomplish such a feat and what the motive was. Investigators were said to be questioning the men.
“Is things like this have you wondering how these guys managing to do the things they do,” the source lamented. “It certainly does not make security at the facility look good. But it is a very good thing that the prison was able to contain the fire. It shows that they are prepared for such occurrences.”
In recent years, cases of prisoners assaulting fellow inmates with sharp objects have resulted in the Georgetown Prison’s security being questioned. Erskine, questioned in the past about how these prisoners have access to certain prohibited materials, repeatedly declined to comment and directed the question to Rohee.
A source, who had requested anonymity while speaking about Theon Smith – the prisoner who had escaped the Camp Street facility in May last year – had said that the Georgetown Prison did not have enough wardens to assign to the various posts in the prison.
“Right now prison officers are under pressure because they are forced to work 14 hours,” the source had said. After working such long hours and taking on the responsibility of four persons, the source explained, towards the end of their work day prison officers are not as alert as they should be. “People don’t know what prison officers go through in there,” the source stated. “They just pray that they leave there at the end of the day alive.”
Camp Street has been the scene of many acts of protest including several where prisoners clambered onto the roof. Several years ago there was a major lockdown after fires were set and other destruction wrought at the prison.