Sixteen prisoners in the new holding area at the Lusignan Prison were shot with rubber bullets and pellets by members of the Joint Services yesterday afternoon as part of efforts to quell a violent unrest, including attacks on security officials, at the facility.
Acting Prisons Director Gladwin Samuels in confirming the unrest told the media that the prisoners were fighting each other and “rioting against officers.” It is unclear what sparked the unrest, which erupted around 4.20 pm, as the prisoners, numbering over 400 in that section, were described a day earlier by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan as well-behaved.
A statement released by the Department of Public Information (DPI) said inmates at the holding area were involved in a series of assaults and aggressive conduct, which resulted in “extreme disorder” and threatened their own safety, that of the Joint Services team providing security, and could have escalated further and compromise the integrity of the facility.
“As a last resort the use of force, including firearms, was required to restore order and maintain the integrity of the holding facility,” it further said. “The Guyana Prison Service regrets that this course of action had to be taken but [it] was left with no other option given the extreme disorder which broke out in the holding area and the refusal of the prisoners to heed the commands of the officers to desist,” it added.
Samuels did not reveal if any of the prisoners were armed with weapons but he did release a photograph of rocks that the prisoners reportedly broke from the “sleeping area” to use as projectiles against prison staff.
The holding area houses the inmates who were relocated from a nearby swampy pasture two weeks ago. These prisoners and 90 others were among those displaced following a fire at the Camp Street Prison on July 9.
The DPI statement noted that in addition to the 16 prisoners who were shot and suffered minor injuries, four others suffered injuries as a result of fights among themselves. Three of the shot prisoners were among five taken to Georgetown Public Hospital for medical attention, while the others were treated on site at the Lusignan Prison’s infirmary.
Up to press time last evening, the names of the injured were not released. Samuels said that while he had the names, he could not release them at that time.
The statement said there were no serious injuries or escapes.
Yesterday’s unrest came one day after Ramjattan said that the 400-plus prisoners would remain in the walled area until construction works at the Mazaruni Prison and at the fire ravaged Camp Street penitentiary are completed.
Ramjattan told reporters on Friday at the ceremony for the commissioning of the new Georgetown High Court wing that the transfer of the prisoners to the Mazaruni and Camp Street penitentiaries is a long term arrangement and he expressed hope that the number would reduce before this time comes.
“We have difficulties making buildings quickly. We are going to try as best as possible to do something at Camp Street,” he said. He added that government has since been told by engineers that the necessary buildings at that location can be constructed in a few months. “We are working on that and that could hold in the vicinity of another 150 or so at Camp Street,” he said.
Last Monday, prisoners from the swampy area were transferred to a recently completed brick prison at the Camp Street site which was not destroyed during the July 9 fire. The transfer became necessary after 13 inmates out of the 99 held there, managed to tunnel their way out.
Ramjattan said the day after the prisoners were transferred to the Camp Street brick prison, there was some misbehaviour but he noted that they have since “calmed down” and some measures have been taken to ensure their comfort at the facility.
Meanwhile, asked if prison officer Hubert Trim, who was injured on July 9 has provided any information that brings clarity to the events leading up to the unrest, Ramjattan responded in the affirmative. However, he quickly added that he does not want to say much about that as the focus now is on Trim’s full recovery.
Trim was badly wounded during the unrest and was initially a patient of the Intensive Care Unit of the Georgetown Public Hospital.
“I do have an understanding of what happened and it was rather brutal…how they were treated by the prisoners and they were an extremely smart set of prisoners there, who knew how to do the beckoning away and then the attacking of prison officers and a number of things but the finer details I will have to give at a later stage or when the commission of inquiry is held,” Ramjattan said.
During the unrest, Bartica massacre convict Mark Royden Williams, Uree Varswyk, Stafrei Alexander, Desmond James, Cobena Stephens and Cornelius Thomas escaped. So far James, Thomas and Alexander have been recaptured.
Ramjattan said that there is no information indicating that any of these escapees are outside of Guyana. “We believe that they are still in Guyana and probably (being) harboured by people and I am urging members of the public…these are dangerous men and they can do this society tremendous harm and obviously they will need your support [but] please do not support them. It is easier said than done …but quite frankly the entire society can be in a very serious predicament if you do not do your citizens-first duty of ensuring that the security of the state is provide for by the communication you can give to the police and also you speaking to the police about what you know,” he stressed.