Deeply concerned over the prisons and security in general, the Private Sector Commission on Tuesday met Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan and a high level security team.
A statement from the private sector follows:
The Private Sector Commission, following the fire and prison breakout at the Georgetown Prison and subsequent further escapes from the Lusignan prison and disturbances within that prison, expressed its concern to the President that these events have brought into question public confidence in the Government’s ability to ensure the security of the country and the safety of our citizens. The Commission, on the advice of President David Granger, met on Tuesday (August 22) with the Minister of Public Security, the Acting Commissioner of Police and the Acting Director of Prisons to discuss these concerns.
The Commission reiterated its concern over the erosion of public security and safety and pointed out that the issue of public confidence in the government is exacerbated by the fact that, to date, no one, at any level has been held accountable and no one charged for these events .
The Commission emphasised the serious damage that these events have caused to investor confidence here, at home and abroad, and to tourism and underlined the fact that scheduled business visits from abroad and planned events have either been postponed or relocated.
The Commission further expressed its concern over the inability of the police to effectively curb the incidence of violent crime reaching into business places and homes across the country. Our citizens, the Commission stressed, are now living in a constant state of fear.
The Minister acknowledged the need for the urgent restoration of public confidence in the security and safety of our prison system and was open and frank in addressing the challenges faced by the country from the threat of violent crime. The Minister assured the Commission that every effort was being made to recapture the escapees who are still at large and to return the situation to normalcy.
Acting Commissioner of Police, David Ramnarine, informed the Commission that the Police are conducting an active investigation into Georgetown Prison Fire which is nearing completion.
The Minister provided the Commission with a comprehensive and confidential brief on the current and accelerated steps being taken to put in place a fully functioning prison system, but pointed out that gross overcrowding neglected over a long number of years will demand substantial sums of money not readily available to construct a new and expanded system sufficient to accommodate the present prison population. The Minister shared with the Commission the government’s plans for the urgent construction of a modern facility in the Mazaruni.
The Minister pointed out that a major contributing factor to the overcrowding of the prisons is the extraordinary number of remand prisoners filling the prisons resulting from the unnecessarily high level of bail being assigned for relatively minor offences completely out of the financial reach of the persons accused of these offences. The Minister told the Commission that he was actively engaged in addressing the Judiciary with regard to a solution to this problem. The Minister confirmed that the Prison Sentence Management Board has been appointed.
The Acting Director of Prisons, Mr. Gladwin Samuels, made a comprehensive statistical presentation to the Commission, charting the current and historical status of prisoners both in the system and at large, largely providing answers to many of the questions asked in the public about the numbers and locations of the prison population. The Commission strongly recommended to the Minister that he make the presentation public since it would go a long way towards reassuring the public that the authorities were in control of the situation.
On the question of rehabilitation of convicted prisoners, the Minister and his team outlined the significant efforts and arrangements in place, in spite of extremely limited resources and space, to ensure that released prisoners were able to be gainfully employed on their reintegration into society.The Minister, however, lamented the fact that, generally, in Guyana, the stigma attached to ex-convicts made it extremely difficult to find employment for them.
The Private Sector Commission thanked the Minister and his team for accommodating the delegation and offered to provide whatever assistance it could.