Some of the convicts at the Georgetown Prison were wearing civilian clothing and not prison uniform at the time of the July 9, fire and escape because the facility that was being set up to produce uniforms with identification numbers had been destroyed in last year’s fire, Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels has said.
But he was quick to add that all of the prisoners who were taken out to work in various communities wore uniforms.
The July 9, jailbreak and fire at the facility, which left one warder dead, several of his colleagues injured and six escapees (two have since been recaptured), has seen questions raised by the public as to why condemned prisoners were not in prison uniform. Observers have pointed out that if the prisoners were in uniform they would have been easier to recognize during their escape, more so if that uniform colour was unique.
The uniform of prisoners here is a dark grey shirt and matching short pants. The uniforms are made in three standard sizes and are washed and recycled for road-work pools of prisoners.
Samuels explained that persons on remand would wear their own clothing and that there were not enough uniforms to clothe all convicts. However, he emphasized that those prisoners taken on the road for labour duties are all clad in uniform. “Don’t you see them in uniform?” he asked.
But a former Guyana Prison Service (GPS) director said getting uniforms for prisoners was “not a priority” since the money for the prison went towards security and other urgent measures.
“The long and short of it is that we could not afford it… Yes [having prisoners wear uniforms that would make them stand out] is a valid point but you have to understand that uniforms were not a priority… when you have matters of security, welfare of prisoners and all of that…,” the former GPS director said.
It was observed on July 9 that only those prisoners who were assigned to duties outside the prison were clad in uniform. Others tried to save whatever belongings they had and took them along when they were transferred to the Lusignan holding facility.
One prisoner who had been assigned outside labour work during the fire bitterly complained that all he had left was the clothing on his back and he had been anticipating returning to the prison to take a bath and relax. He told this newspaper that he had been transferred from Mazaruni only the week before and was scheduled to be released on Saturday last. He did not give his name and it is unclear if he was one of the prisoners granted remission by Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan.