UK security expert to address prison system in reform plan, envoy says

UK security expert Lt Col (rtd) Russell Combe, who is working closely with the Guyana government to resuscitate the Security Sector Reform Action Plan (SSRAP), will be broadening his mandate to assess the country’s prison situation.

During the past six weeks, the country’s prison system has been shaken by unrest, which included the Camp Street penitentiary being devastated by fire during a jailbreak.

Asked yesterday whether Combe has any plans to address the prison system in his work given the recent developments, British High Commissioner to Guyana Greg Quinn responded in the affirmative.

“He went on leave at the end of June and his plan when he came back was actually to work on the prison service… that predated the events at Camp Street. He had actually already intended to look into the prison service,” Quinn told reporters at his official residence yesterday, while adding that the area is now being given some importance as a result of the unrest. “So, yes, he was always going to, and that is now formally part of what he is doing,” Quinn added.

Previously, Combe had said that his work would focus on police reforms.

According to Quinn, one of the fundamental problems of the local prison system is that there are persons on remand for periods that exceed the sentences they would have received if convicted. “The prison service is held hostage by other parts of the system so there is definitely a need to, I think, reform and to speed up some of the judicial processes …I think that there is work that could be done on the alternative sentencing so it is not automatically custodial…you can get fines, go on probation etc.,” he said.

He noted the overcrowding issues as well as the presence of high risk prisoners in a facility such as the Camp Street jail are matters that need to be looked at.

The judiciary, he also said, has a role to play in reducing the number of persons in the prison system.


No immediate plans

Meanwhile, in response to questions, Quinn said though the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Prison Service are facing many security challenges, there are no immediate plans to have UK-based law enforcers or other security personnel seconded to these institutions but the possibility of them offering training will be explored.

Quinn said that the secondment of UK security officials into the services is not on the cards presently but it should not be ruled out.

“At the minute, not in the way you are thinking… not that we would physically have somebody coming up and spending however long a period of time in one of those areas. At the minute, what we are looking at is experts like that coming out to deliver a particular activity within the security sector but I wouldn’t rule it out. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility but at the current moment there are no plans to have …UK officers sitting in the system here,” he said.


Interim report

Quinn also used the occasion to inform the media that Combe submitted an interim report at the end of June, as he had promised.

He said that the report focuses on Combe’s initial findings on processes and procedures across the police force. “And so the training we are looking at …is gonna be focused on police but actually some of that would be of benefit more broadly, so we are looking at things like trying to work out  strategic policies within the police service, working on maritime capabilities…,” he said.

Quinn stated that there is nothing that Combe has found which has not been seen in any of the many other reports that have been done before. He said that a lot of what was found so far centres on “making sure that the proper people are in the proper position with the proper skills, that promotion is based on merit, that accommodation in police stations are up to scratch, that a process for discipline, if needed, that it exists, standing orders exist.”

Asked what value the security expert is bringing to the process if he has found nothing new, Quinn said that the findings have allowed him to point out where progress has been made. He said that based on what was found, Combe has been able to formulate the types of specific training which could be done in specific areas and this is what the UK government will be addressing in the coming months.

Soon after entering office in 2015, President David Granger had revealed that government had approached the British to have the SSRAP, which was previously rejected by the former PPP/C government, back on the cards in the wake of the country’s ongoing battle with crime.

It was as a result of this that Combe was hired and travelled to Guyana to commence work on the programme.

As a result of what is contained in Combe’s report, Quinn said that there are various training activities which would come on stream in the next few months and before the end of the year but he did not provide specific details.

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