Amid jitters over Sunday’s prison break, the private sector yesterday met with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and heads of the police and prisons and the point was made that this government should not have disbanded the Law and Order Commission.
After the meeting, Private Sector Commission (PSC) member Gerry Gouveia told reporters that the dissolution of the bodies by Ramjattan may have led to decreased intelligence gathering and ultimately to last Sunday’s prison riot and razing of the Camp Street Prison.
Gouveia said it was time for the APNU+AFC government to relook at both.
His views and others issues were discussed at the meeting of the PSC and members of civil society with Ramjattan and Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels and Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson. The meeting was held at the Georgetown Club.
“What that would have done is feed information from civil society all across this country that sat there with the Law and Order Commission monthly, with the Police Commissioner, Director of Prisons, the Minister of Home Affairs…and discussed national security issues at a prison level,” Gouveia told the press.
“In disbanding that when he took office, I think the minister lost the opportunity, big opportunity, to [access] information to be used as intelligence. Second of all, when he stopped the work of the Sentence Management Board, that didn’t start back for a year and I think we lost a lot of ground as well,” he added.
The Minister of Public Security ignored the press when approached for comment last night after the meeting.
It was Minister of Public Infrastructure Patterson who gave a synopsis of what transpired at the meeting.
He made it clear that he could not speak for government on security issues since that was not his forte but discussed works that his ministry had been doing to assist as it relates to infrastructure.
He revealed that works on the emergency accommodation to house inmates at the Lusignan Prison were 95% completed and are expected to be handed over to the prison services today.
“We’re hoping that by tomorrow, [the facility] will be handed over to the prison. I hope that the prisoners’ living conditions, at least, will improve tremendously,” Patterson was quoted as saying in a statement that was issued by his ministry.
He went on to say that his ministry and other stakeholders have taken all the precautions given by the prison service and it would be the disciplined forces who will conduct a final inspection before it is handed over.
Following the destruction of the Camp Street Prison, a temporary holding area was set up for inmates who were transferred to the Lusignan Prison.
The emergency facility, Patterson said, would have walls that are 18 feet high and which are surrounded by barbed wire fencing. He stressed that the walls of the new facility are solid cast, with a buffer zone between the fence and the facility to allow for a clear line of sight for prison guards.
He added that they have also constructed watch towers and installed adequate security lighting.
According to Patterson, they have created the new facility with partitions as requested by the prison service. He emphasised that the facility will be a vast improvement over the current situation.
Currently, prisoners are complaining about the inhumane conditions in which they have to dwell.
While Gouveia praised the efforts of the disciplined forces for their work on Sunday and to date, he lamented that emphasis has to be placed on prison reform.
“We had done tremendous amounts of work on prison reform, tremendous. We had set up the entry codes for the prison where every prisoner that enters we took their bio data and found out if they wanted to be a shoemaker, electrician or whatever we set up training for them. If they were sentenced for five years, you had a Board managing their sentence. Different organisations were invited to be part of the Board and the PSC sent me to be the governance and security (representative). I was elected to be the Chairperson so we were getting to a point where we used to train prisoners trying to rehabilitate prisoners constantly. I used to stop in and have lunch to ensure the food provision and so on was up to scratch and so on,” Gouveia said.
“We had gotten to a stage where we would have started issuing certificates where when they came out, they could get jobs. The problem is that too often we send our people to prison and think that is it, that they have become prisoners but they come out and live among us, our churches and schools so what we were trying to do was to help them to become useful citizens,” he added.
A former Guyana Defence Force pilot, Gouveia represented the PSC on both boards and said that with all stakeholders playing active roles it was a disappointment when the decision was made to disband them. “We were in the prisons every day. Every month we met with the prison officials,” he said, as he noted that persons met with prisoners to evaluate how programmes were going. At a post-meeting press conference held by the PSC at the same location, Gouveia again emphasised that both bodies should have been resuscitated and that it was not too late to do so.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the PSC Eddie Boyer explained that the PSC had asked to meet with Ramjattan and other officials to be updated on the current situation since there was no formal meeting since last Sunday’s fire.
He said that within 24 hours, government responded to the request, which resulted in yesterday’s meeting.
“We need to be more informed on what is the effects of the whole movement because we want to ensure we don’t have a third prison break. We also want to ensure that the prisoners are treated humanely,” Boyer said.
Further, he pointed out that the discussion was an open one where the panel gave attendees a detailed breakdown “starting from the jail break on Sunday right up to where we are.”
The PSC also shared concerns that businesses were affected since Sunday’s unrest.
“The private sector is very concerned with what happened on Sunday night…and it is affecting business. People aren’t shopping, traffic has eased,” a statement quoted a member of the PSC as saying.
The statement informed that among the questions raised was the possible threat to the public. “In response, Commissioner Persaud said that the greatest threat is the possible escalation of crime but, he added, the Police Force is on the lookout for such instances. He further said that all of the force’s resources are being utilised and there is currently no need for foreign assistance. This situation is open to reassessment if the situation worsens…Furthermore, another private sector member questioned why high-profile prisoners, such as escapee, Mark Royden Williams, were housed at the Georgetown Prison.
In response, Samuels said that the persons who are sentenced to death must be housed in the condemned division, which is in the Georgetown Prison. Both Samuels and Commissioner Persaud also noted the logistical difficulties in transporting remand prisoners from Mazaruni to Georgetown for court appearances,” the statement noted.
“The Prison Director also quelled concerns of further escapes, especially during the movement of the prisoners from one facility to another. He said that additional security has been provided for the other facilities.
He added that the joint services are assisting the Prison Services with security,” it added.
The PSC said it wants the public to know that it has committed to assisting the security services and, by extension the government in whatever ways possible to find the escapees, ensure the prisoners are in suitable housing and that law and order is kept throughout the country.