Over the walls

News this week that a raid—the second one publicized for the year so far—at the Georgetown Prison had unearthed a significant amount of contraband brings an unsettling feeling that despite protestations to the contrary, things are perhaps too fluid at Lot 12 Camp Street.

And because the point is worth belabouring, the danger of an unsettled prison in the heart of the capital must once again be pointed out. The events of March 2 and 3 this year, which claimed the lives of 17 men, are still fresh in our collective consciousness. The sequence of events—who did what, when, why and how—was related in testimonies given at the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the fires including the deadly one and the riotous behaviour by inmates of the facility. That report is most likely still being compiled, since the commissioners were given until the end of this month to submit and no doubt it will come with recommendations of preventative methods that could be employed to prevent a recurrence.

Yet on Saturday, close to 200 deadly weapons were found stashed in various parts of the cells and on the person of prisoners. If one of each of the nearly 200 pieces of improvised sharpened steel and real knives and razors, among other items, belonged to different prisoners then it means that just about a quarter of the prison population was armed. This jacked up the possibility of mayhem in the event of a riot several notches. The threat has been alleviated, but most likely only temporarily, given that the recent find was so close on the heels of the raid in March.

A quantity of cannabis sativa was also found, as well as scissors with which to cut and apportion the illegal drug for redistribution and sale. Similarly, a quantity of the same drug had been found in March. And more than that, an inmate had posted on social media a photo of himself posing with portions of marijuana packaged for sale. Saturday’s raid also discovered lighters and cigarettes.

How did these items find their way into the prison and so quickly after the March raids, will perhaps be answered in the CoI’s report at the end of the month. In the meantime, however, there is a lot of conjecture that for the most part they are thrown over the prison walls.

While it has not yet been definitively proven, as no eyewitnesses have come forward—as far as this newspaper is aware, that is—the practice of tossing items over the walls of the prisons is a long-held one, almost a tradition these days. This is despite the fact that for years, there have been two police officers stationed in John Street, though for some reason this was rarely ever extended to Bent or D’Urban streets.

Following the events of March 2 and 3, the Guyana Prison Service extended the barricaded perimeter of the Lot 12 Camp Street facility. The new perimeter, marked by iron barriers, prevents traffic from flowing along John, Bent and D’Urban streets in a seeming nod to the beefing up of security. However, in a comment to this newspaper on Sunday, Director of Prisons Carl Graham had said that he could not rule out things being thrown over the prison walls, although there had been reports about staff who would take things in, adding that once this was discovered the staff member would be immediately sent packing.

One would have assumed that the elimination of the tossing of contraband over the prison walls was one of the reasons for the extended barricade. For one thing, it would make those doing the tossing easy to apprehend, assuming that there are officers manning the barriers 24/7. Since vehicles cannot traverse the area, anyone throwing a parcel over would be forced to walk and those persons would be seen and arrested, but this appears not to be the case. The barriers then have done nothing to date but frustrate residents of the area and the travelling public at large.

The idea, however, that prison officers could smuggle items like scissors, lighters and garden files into the prison and give them to inmates, makes for a much bitterer pill to swallow. It points to corruption swamping security and does not bode well for the prison service.

Still, the residents of Georgetown must be grateful that the items were found before they could be used. One hopes too that the instances where contraband was found on inmates would result in charges being brought against those prisoners. The prospect of added sentences might just be the impetus that curbs the propensity to commit crimes while in prison. Or it might prove effective to others of like mind. But even if it doesn’t, it’s the right thing to do.

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