Director of Prisons Carl Graham yesterday said that trauma was among the factors that may have played a part in a dozen wardens of the Camp Street Prison reporting sick on Thursday.
Although Graham assured the populace that there are systems in place to cope with the situation, reports out of the prison described the setting as “a free for all,” with inmates boldly breaking rules in the sights of their jailers.
The huge personnel deficit in the prison system has been one of the factors hindering the jail’s proper management. Against the backdrop of the March 3rd prison fire, which left 17 prisoners dead, absences will affect control of prisoners. It is known that the prison is overcrowded, which has been cause for worry.
President David Granger on Thursday convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee at the Ministry of the Presidency after only two out of 15 prison wardens on the roster for the day shift reported for duty.
Contacted yesterday for an update on the situation, Graham told Stabroek News that he has seen media reports of a sick-out but he is unaware of where that information came from.
He said that he did not have information of a sick-out and could not assume that there was one. Graham disclosed that there are wardens on sick leave but he did not reveal how many.
Given the trauma and other factors which have since influenced the work and daily routine of the prison wardens since last month’s fire, Graham said it was likely that they are “genuinely sick.”
He said that in the event there is a shortage of wardens, there are systems in place to cope with that. Asked about the systems, Graham stated that for security reasons he could not provide that information.
Asked yesterday about the present situation at the penitentiary, he said that a full complement of prison wardens was at work. “As of now, everything at the prison is calm…officers reported for duty this morning,” he said.
A release from the Ministry of the Presidency issued after the meeting had concluded said that Graham had sought reinforcements from the Timehri and Lusignan Prisons and from the administration division at the Camp Street Prison in an effort to keep the situation under control.
The release said the committee was informed that since the deadly prison riot, “inmates have become bolder and much more aggressive; displaying weapons and acting menacingly towards prison officers. As such, the officers have become fearful to carry out their duties. This is suspected to be the reason behind 13 officers submitting seven-day sick leave certificates.”
The release said the committee was also informed that there has been a rise in cases of marijuana being thrown over the prison fences and wardens are afraid of being harmed by prisoners, who are under the influence of the drug.
“In the light of this, President Granger has ordered that the outer cordons of the prison be extended to include D’urban, John and Bent streets, which will be blocked off to the public except for persons residing within those areas, as is done on Camp Street,” the release said.
Additionally, he has directed the Guyana Police Force to aid prison officers in manning the Camp Street facility and the Guyana Defence Force to help in guarding the outer cordons of its precincts.
Stabroek News yesterday learnt that the aftermath of the March 3rd tragedy had demoralised wardens, particularly by their perception that prisoners’ concerns were being given priority over theirs.
Sources within the prison system and others close to the wardens say that the entire situation is disturbing.
“The system is broken… the wardens have been left in the cold. The inmates have no regards for prison wardens. They are fearful but they are still going to work… They hope people at some point could understand the complex nature of their job,” a source told this newspaper.
This newspaper was told that prisoners managing to get an audience with government officials have left them feeling empowered and they are being disrespectful to the wardens in every possible way. The meeting referred to is the one with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State Joseph Harmon. The two met a delegation of prisoners the day of after the deadly fire as the prisoners had wowed that they would continue their violent protest until their concerns were addressed. The government has since ensured that some of the concerns raised by members of the delegation are addressed and these include the improved quality of food and additional telephone calls.
This newspaper was told that prisoners have gotten so bold that they are openly walking around in the prison yard with implements stuck in their waist, talking on cell phones and smoking marijuana. This was happening up to late yesterday.
The situation was described as “a free for all.”
A source opined that the wardens may be giving in to the prisoners’ demands and allowing them to do their own thing out of fear.
Stabroek News was told of instances in the last few days where prison officers were spat on.