High-tech scanners eyed to stem contraband in prisons

- acting prisons director

As dangerous contraband continues to be smuggled into jails, Director of Prisons (Ag) Gladwin Samuels says the Guyana Prison Service has identified several possible measures, including the installation of body scanners, and hopes to act on them as money becomes available.

“…The time has come for us to depend more on advanced technology and to minimise our reliance on the human factor and I am saying this because when you visit prisons across the world … [they] are very successful in terms of keeping contraband out because of the assistance given by technology, be it surveillance systems, [or] scanners for both bags and humans,” Samuels told Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview, while noting that the technological measures serve as a deterrent to persons may be want to make attempts to get contraband into prisons.

His comments were made in the wake of the discovery of an assortment of contraband, including weapons, drugs and mobile phones, after the Joint Services conducted raids on November 12 at the Georgetown and New Amsterdam prisons.

At the Georgetown Prison, 21 improvised weapons and knives, 20 razor blades, 558 grammes of marijuana, 22 cellular phones and five gallons of homemade wine, along with a number of other banned items were found. A small number of similar items were found at the New Amsterdam Prison.

In a statement announcing the discovery, the Ministry of the Presidency said the security forces were gravely concerned by the recovery of such a large haul of contraband at the Georgetown Prison, which was only last searched just under two months ago on September 23, 2016.

Samuels told Sunday Stabroek that for a number of years the prison service had been facing a number of challenges as it relates to contraband being found in the prisons whenever searches are done. There are five prisons—at Georgetown, Mazaruni, Lusignan, New Amsterdam and Timehri—and searches are usually conducted by the prison service alone or in collaboration with the Joint Services.

“We have asked ourselves several times why is it that every time we do these searches we would unearth so much contraband and we have been able to answer some of those questions,” he said.

As a result, the prison administration, he pointed out, is trying to put several measures in place to reduce the presence of contraband. “The more we do persons will continue to find more innovative ways in terms of getting those items into the prison,” he, however, added.

Prisoners, he reiterated, have continued to find creative ways to get contraband into prisons. He said that it is because of these creative ways that the Guyana Prison Service has stopped persons returning from court and labour with food and drink. He explained that he has seen cases where the contents of a sealed bottle of drink or water are not what they ought to be. He said he has seen prisoners swallowing and secreting both drugs and money.

Nevertheless, Samuels was hopeful that the prison service would be able to acquire some improved quality of scanners, while in the interim “a more rigid process” of searching both prisoners and ranks who are entering and leaving the prison has been introduced.

He said to ensure that there is no collusion, the plan is to establish “a special search room” to ensure that civilians are involved in the searches. “So nobody conducting the search can collude with any prisoner to allow any items to pass,” he explained.

Additionally, Samuels said the prison service is trying to acquire a special x-ray machine that would allow officers to detect foreign objects that me hidden in the prisoner’s body, such as in the anal cavity.

The recent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deadly March 3 Camp Street prison fire, which claimed the lives of 17 inmates, had been told by witnesses that prisoners engage in the practice of “pouching” to smuggle contraband into the facility. It was explained that prisoners while out on labour duties or on visits to the court would place contraband in their anus to conceal it. Items smuggled using this method have included cellphones, marijuana, and even a cellphone charger in one instance.

 

‘Our job would be easier’

Samuels said currently if it is suspected that a prisoner has something in his anus, there is a long process with involves the medical officer and sending the prisoner to the hospital, which requires rigid security measures to prevent an escape.

“With the acquisition of those things we are trying to get… our job would be easier and we also hope that the presence of those items will serve as a deterrent to persons who are in the habit of bringing these items into the prison,” he said.

He noted that based on the service’s budgetary allocation, it has been established that it would be difficult to acquire scanners and x ray machines at all of the prisons at the same time. However, he said that based on research, the prison service has been able to identify pieces of equipment that would give the type of services needed.

Samuels said that during a recent visit to Barbados, he was shown the quantity of contraband found over a year at a prison and it was way less than what would be found during one search at a prison in Guyana.

He noted that has some concerns about the number of phones that were recently discovered at the Georgetown Prison because with the measures that would have been put in place there should have been “a significant reduction.” He, however, pointed out that even though searches are done, some prisoners have devised so many ways to conceal contraband over the years that some of the phones recently recovered could have been in the prison for some time. “I say this because structurally some of those buildings allow for persons to be able to conceal items very easily and in order to get it, it requires some amount of demolition,” he said. He added that as the service continues to modernise the prison estate, in keeping with its strategic development plan, it is hoping that the new structures proposed will be designed and constructed in such a way that prisoners will not have that advantage in terms of being able to secure contraband.

With regard to the recovery of improvised weapons, Samuels said it would be difficult to confidently say that none would be found during the next search. “Those items are basically generated from the beds the inmates are given to sleep on. Having recognised that, we are taking steps to ensure that the quality of beds that we purchase does not allow inmates to be able to use the material to make weapons,” he said.

Asked about plans to replace all the existing beds, in keeping with the recommendation made by the CoI, Samuels informed that because of budgetary restrictions, this will happen gradually.

Recently, a contract for the construction of beds for the new block at the Georgetown Prison, which will be completed soon, was signed.

According to Samuels, the record will show that even religious persons who are entrusted to go into the prison to help change the lives of inmates, after a while “do end up becoming traffickers.” He said he did not know what the prisoners say to them but some eventually take in contraband.

He lamented that some of the persons hired to help in the rehabilitation programmes have been found with contraband. He informed that recently the prison’s steel band teacher was allegedly found with narcotics in his possession when searched at the Camp Street prison. He was charged but the case was dismissed. He pointed out that despite persons being charged and disciplinary action being taken, the trend continues.

Samuels reminded the public that the rehabilitation of prisoners is one of the main objectives of the prison administration to ensure that when inmates return to society, better can be expected of them. He stressed that this cannot be achieved by the prison staff acting alone and it therefore means that friends and relatives of inmates and the wider society have a major role to play. He said sometimes the bad behaviour of the inmates continues within the prison because they are supported by family members. There are also persons out there who are aware of the unbecoming behaviour of prisoners and staff, he added, but for various reasons this information is not communicated to the prison administration or anyone else. He said that such information can assist in the reduction of the amount of contraband entering the prison. He urged that anyone with such information contact prison officials on 225-6003 or 226-8301.

 

 

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