A woman prison officer who appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into the March 3, prison unrest, told the tribunal yesterday that she does not believe women officers should be exposed to the prison yard.
June Lewis-Charles’ view is based on her experience in the midst of the riot at the Georgetown prison on March 4, the third day of unrest at the prison. According to witness testimonies, on that day, the prisoners of the Capital B division began rioting, and called on the inmates of the other divisions to break out of their cells and start fires.
Superintendent Nicklon Elliot yesterday related that inmates breached the walls of a number of divisions, including the Old Capital Building and Star Ward 3. These prisoners, who were violent at the time and were pelting officer with anything they could arm themselves with, were eventually subdued with tear gas and shotgun pellets.
According to Lewis-Charles, she was in the prison yard when these riotous acts began at about 06.20 hrs on March 4. She took up refuge in the office, but lost consciousness for some time after an inmate kicked a can of tear gas into the office. She was then forced to climb out onto the roof of the kitchen for safety.
Lewis-Charles related to Commissioner Merle Mendonca that around the time of the tragedy—and even now—she was the only woman officer working in the prison yard along with the nurses because most are frightened by the threats made by the inmates. She said it has not always been like this, as she has been in the prison service for the past 23 years. She said there used to be a lot more women working in the prison yard in the years gone by, stating that they used to receive a lot more respect from the inmates.
However, she said the male prison officers are also subject to mistreatment, explaining that the prisoners coming into the system now are a “different kind.”
In witness testimony yesterday it was stated that women prison officers work in the operations room of the Georgetown Prison where the switchboard is operated and from which the activities in the prison yard are observed.