Prison officer on bail after denying smuggling drugs into NA prison

Joanna Erskine, a prison officer who is accused of smuggling ganja into the New Amsterdam Prison, was yesterday placed on $150,000 bail after denying the charge at the New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Court.

Erskine, 35, of Lot 723 Fort Ordnance, East Canje, Berbice, is charged with possession of 298 grammes of cannabis for trafficking. It is alleged that she smuggled the cannabis into the prison on Sunday.

Erskine was represented by attorney Tonia Clements, who said that according to her briefing, the narcotics were not found on her client nor on her premises.

Joanna Erskine
Joanna Erskine

Clements argued that her client, who is a mother of two, should be placed on bail since it would be a security risk if she were housed with the prisoners she once dealt with.

However, Magistrate Alex Moore indicated that bail would be denied since the lawyer did not give special reasons for her client’s release to be considered. He noted that other officers have come before the court on different charges and were remanded despite their attorneys also citing similar reasons. He then stated that he is aware that when an officer is remanded, that person is housed elsewhere and they would not come into contact with prisoners that they once had in their charge.

Inspector Godfrey Playter, the police prosecutor, opposed bail on the basis of the nature and prevalence of the offence. However, the magistrate then told the prosecutor that if bail is denied the accused will have to be given a speedy trial. However, Playter then pointed out that the forensic analyst in Georgetown, who has to test the illegal substance, is currently on leave and is expected to return in December. This, the magistrate said, would constitute a “special reason” for bail as it would be unfair for the accused to be remanded until December. This led to him setting bail at $200,000, but Clements asked that bail be lowered. It was eventually set at $150,000.

Erskine saw the support of several family members in court. Her relatives sat and sighed in court on numerous occasions during the proceedings as they thought bail would not have been granted. But when Magistrate Moore approved the bail, her relatives ran out of the court and rejoiced. Erskine, when leaving the court after her relatives paid the bail, told reporters who were present, “I am free.” She is expected to appear in court next on December 15.

Erskine was arrested on Sunday after a bag that she allegedly asked a prisoner to take into the prison was found with a quantity of cannabis seeds, stems and leaves. She reportedly told the prisoner that the bag contained medication for the prisoner he was expected to hand it to. However, as he was passing through a checkpoint, the officer present demanded he open the bag. Erskine, who was still in proximity, allegedly became agitated and attempted to collect the bag to prevent the check. As a result, there was an uproar, prompting a senior officer to intervene. Afterwards, a search was conducted on the bag and the cannabis was discovered.

The prisoner who Erskine allegedly asked to take the bag into the prison is also expected to be charged.

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