Prison system short of 86 warders – Samuels

- ‘fit’ retired joint services officers seen as key resource

Hiring retired senior non-commissioned officers will result in less time being spent on training and will boost the human resources of the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) but close attention will be paid to the ability of applicants to perform efficiently and effectively, acting Prison Director Gladwin Samuels said.

“…While we do not intend to discriminate against anybody, physical structure and health will be taken into consideration…I will not be prepared to employ persons who have to go to clinic every other day…so you gotta be able to deal with the rigours of the job, health and otherwise. You must be able to stand up to [your duties],” he told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview while adding that while the GPF is in need of staff, it is not “going to compromise quality for quantity.”

Samuels later acknowledged that retirees from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the GPS will bring with them a wealth of discipline and knowledge. He said that while the standard retirement age in the public service except for the army is 55 years, the GPS is willing to hire persons up to age 60, but this will all depend on their physical condition.

The recruitment of retired army officers is in keeping with one of the recommendations made following last year’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the horrific fire that killed 17 prisoners.

The prison system has a current staff complement of 515 when 601 is required. Last year’s CoI and the recent uprisings including one which destroyed the overcrowded Camp Street prison have highlighted how understaffed the system is. At the moment the police and the army are assisting with security at the various prison locations.

Last Monday, Samuels announced in a statement issued by the Department of Public Information (DPI) that in an effort to strengthen the capacity of the GPS applications from retired senior non-commissioned officers of the GDF, GPF and GPS would be considered.

The statement said that retired officers who wished to join the GPS could submit written applications to the Director of Prisons, 46 Brickdam, Stabroek or call telephone number 225 6003 for further details.

“Recent challenges which the Guyana Prison Service has been faced with require us to look at all possibilities in strengthening our internal capacity. We know that there is a corps of experienced security services officers who have expressed a willingness to continue to give service to the nation and we believe it would be eminently sensible to engage these officers at this time,” Samuels was reported in the DPI release as saying.

In a later interview with Sunday Stabroek, Samuels said that this call is a reinforcement of what has been happening, as the GPS has on staff retired prison officers and army personnel who still have potential to contribute to the prison service.

It was explained that a senior non-commissioned officer is someone who would have retired at the rank of a warrant officer in the army or an inspector in the police force.

Using the army as an example, he explained that senior non-commissioned officers retire at age 40 which means that they still have another 15 years to go until they reach the standard retirement age. He stressed that a lot of these persons are “very hard working and very disciplined.”

Samuels made it clear that a retiree should not expect that once he/she applies he/she would be automatically hired. He stressed that while work ethic and discipline will be taken into consideration there are other factors to be considered.

He pointed out that the GPS will seek information from the joint services arm the applicant retired from, as it relates to conduct and other job-related qualities.

“It’s not because somebody wants a job or turns up that they will be employed,” he stressed.

In explaining the need for the hiring of these retirees, Samuels said, “We have some prison officers who can be deployed to custodial and other duties but because we lack the numbers to full certain other responsibilities we have to use those prison officers.” He said the persons now being sought can be utilised to fill those gaps which will ensure that more prison officers are utilised for “actual prison duties.”

Among the recommendations following the inquiry last year was the immediate increase of staffing to match the operational and management readiness of the GPS as the current staffing is a recipe for continuous disturbances and security threats to the community and to increase the capability of staff in the short term by recruiting senior  non-commissioned officers of the GDF by carefully selecting them and appropriately training them to perform their new duties in keeping with prison philosophy.

Singling out the hiring of retired army officers, Samuels said that such persons will help to reduce the need for a lot of “initial training” to be done.

“While training is important the fact that they are coming not as raw civilians it is likely to be easier to orient them to the needs of the organisation,” he said.

Samuels told the Sunday Stabroek that he is hopeful that this recruitment drive, which is being done to fill existing vacancies will be lucrative because it is then he would be in a better position to justify the need for the expansion of the prison system’s staff strength

“Me going to ask the government to expand the establishment from 601 to whatever figure would be necessary [but] how am I justifying that when the current establishment is not filled,” he said.

While unable to provide figures, he said that there are a number of persons both male and female who after leaving the army have taken up positions within the GPS. He said that these persons applied and went through the normal procedure before they were hired.

Samuels informed that since the announcement calls have been placed to the Prison Headquarters by interested persons seeking information and clarity on issues such as the age limit for applications. He said that where necessary, persons were advised to submit written applications and added that while he is heartened by the response based on the number of phone calls it must be remembered that it is only after the necessary vetting that it will be determined who among the applicants would have met the requirements being sought.

The inquiry had recommended increased pay for prison staff and the review of the ratio of female to male custodial staff.

Asked about these recommendation he said that the GPS is a public sector entity and as such “we would have made recommendations at the last commission of inquiry as it relates to salary and benefits. So hopefully we will be able to benefit from that sooner than later.”

He said he was unsure if there was any change in the salary structure following the last CoI.

Samuels informed that the ordinary recruitment drive continues and saw a number of persons being interviewed. He said that the successful candidates were contacted and told two Tuesdays ago to report and a number of them did. However, Samuels said in the interest of security it was decided that they will not be placed into the current prison environment untrained.

He informed that the training school located at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara cannot be used as currently live-in prison warders are being accommodated there. He told the Sunday Stabroek that the GPS has to now wait until this situation is rectified in order to bring the new recruits into the training school. Once these persons are exposed to the initial training, he said, they can be placed in the prison environment and this will ensure that they are provided with all of the prerequisite information in order to function effectively.

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