‘We are not out of the woods’ – Ramjattan

Khemraj Ramjattan

Following the successes of the security forces in recapturing a number of recent prison escapees, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday said that nothing is being taken for granted in ensuring the integrity of prison facilities.

“I want to say that certainly we are not out of the woods. We have lots of work to do to catch the four… also to maintain order in the institutions that we have presently–Camp Street and Lusignan,” Ramjattan told a press conference.

His comments come on the heels of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo criticising him for not addressing the National Assembly on the prison situation at last Thursday’s sitting.

Khemraj Ramjattan

Speaking at his Brickdam office yesterday, Ramjattan thanked the public for the useful information provided to recapture some of the escapees and he pleaded for continued assistance.

After a jailbreak by six inmates from the Georgetown Prison on July 9 and the escape of 13 others from a holding area at the Lusignan Prison, security forces have managed to recapture all but three of the Camp Street escapees and all but one of the Lusignan escapees. One Lusignan escapee was killed during a confrontation.

“The members of the public have demonstrated bravery and a duty to …rid society of these persons who are to be in custody,” Ramjattan said, before adding that the information provided to the security forces has been treated with the strictest of confidence.

With four remaining prisoners on the run, he called on members of the public to continue their vigilance and to report all information to the police.

He also pleaded for the family members, relatives, friends and associates of those on the run to turn them in if they are in contact with them or know of their whereabouts. He warned that if persons are caught habouring these fugitives, the fullest extent of the law would be applied.

Ramjattan also used the opportunity to thank the Joint Services for their “tireless work, relentless effort and unrelenting pursuit of these fugitives and for doing so without the loss of any life of any civilian.” He noted that the Prison Service, with the support of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force, has been vigilant in maintaining order at all prisons and any attempt to escape has been thwarted, as was seen during the unrest in the holding area at Lusignan last Saturday that left a total of 20 prisoners injured, including 16 who were shot and wounded.

The minister said that nothing is being taken for granted. “The security is further beefed up to ensure that the integrity of the prisons is high and that safety and good order prevail in the society and citizens can feel a heightened sense of security,” he said, while noting that because the other prisons are “saturated,” there has to be intensified security at these locations to ensure safety and security of the nation.

Acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine, who was present, noted that there has been unrelenting pursuit of the escapees and all citizens should be proud. He also lauded the collaboration between the members of the Joint Services, while saying cooperation is at an all-time high.

Acting Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels lauded the Guyana Fire Service for the logistical support provided since July 9. He said that they have been instrumental is ensuring an adequate water supply for the inmates at Lusignan. He said that there are private companies that have also been providing support. “This fight is one that requires the support of all of us,” he said, while adding that Joint Services will do all that is necessary in order to keep the prisons safe and to ensure those who are still at large are brought back into custody.

Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that the escape of the 13 prisoners from the pasture at Lusignan caused a change in plans for the works at Camp Street Prison. The prison was ravaged by a fire set by prisoners on July 9, which resulted in around 1,000 inmates being transferred to Lusignan. Eventually some were transferred to other prisons, bail was granted to some, bail was reduced for others and those who had almost completed their sentences were granted early releases. Over 500 prisoners subsequently remained in an open pasture. A holding area with better facilities was established nearby and over 400 prisoners were transferred there, while the others, who were described as the “bad ones” remained in the open pasture, from where the 13 escaped last week.

The plan was that the 400 prisoners would remain in the holding area until construction work at the Mazaruni Prison and Camp Street was completed.

Ramjattan informed that because of the escape of the 13 prisoners, the “cage” at the Camp Street prison could not be prepared for the housing of prisoners as was initially planned.

He said that given the “dynamics of the situation,” it was realised that “we had to bring back those from the pasture areas as a result of the breakout of the 13 and putting up administrative arrangements there require the use of that caged area.”

According to the minister, that area was reconfigured to accommodate administrative officers who will overlook the “bad” prisoners in the new brick prison.

“…We are going to have prefabricated arrangements brought there for purposes of doing the additional work that has to be done…proper administrative building, the infirmary,” he said before later informing that funds from the supplementary budget that was taken to Parliament last week will be used to install CCTV cameras to monitor those in the Brick Prison and in the caged area.

“Of course, we will have to enhance the cameras system and all the other security surveillance equipment to bring it…to more improve than it was before,” he said.

According to Samuels, in addition to the infirmary, which will house sick inmates, a separate medical centre will be constructed near the brick prison to cater for those prisoners. In addition, a security block will be constructed at the ravaged site.

With regard to Mazaruni Prison, Ramjattan said that the actual construction of the prisoners’ block has not commenced, while the construction of four of the 12 houses slated for officers is nearing completion. This project, he said, is a long-term one.


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