(Trinidad Guardian) President of the Prisons Officers Association, Ceron Richards, fears that Sunday’s jailbreak in Guyana is a disaster waiting to happen at the Port-of-Spain State Prison.
Attorney Israel Khan SC also described it as a minefield and a ticking time bomb.
Richard said two things that could trigger a stand-off and jailbreak at this prison were lack of security measures and the city’s ageing facility.
He was commenting on the stand-off between armed inmates and prison officers in Guyana’s Georgetown Prison, which left one prison officer killed, seven others injured and four prisoners escaping.
Chaos broke out at the prison after armed inmates took control of the facility, setting it on fire.
Asked if the Port-of-Spain State Prison, which was built in 1812 could face a similar situation, Richards said yes.
“But of course, we had a jail break in July of 2015 which resulted in the death of three individuals. Of course, it is extremely worrying. It is not farfetched in our country. And if that is any indication as to what can happen in the service, that question goes without saying. We have to look at these things as serious trends. When anything happens in the Caribbean and Central America it could have a domino effect. It can spread to other countries. We have to be mindful of that.”
Richards said things had to be implemented at this prison to secure and monitor its 700 inmates some of whom were considered dangerous.
“Over the years we have been clamouring for a number of security implementation…all those things have fallen on deaf ears. If not most of them. We have always stated that the Port-of- Spain Prison is faced with health and safety challenges.”
While the structure had been deteriorating, Richard said, things could be done to improve the building’s internal system and make it OSH compliant for its 200 prison officers.
He said the association had asked for additional CCTV cameras be installed at the nation’s prisons.
“You cannot have high security establishments and don’t have basic security equipment.
“No Government so far is up to the challenge of having that type of facility built. When we had the money to build the prison it was not done. Now we have no money we are faced with all sorts of excuses, he said”
Richards was not in support of the capital city prison being shut down since there was no alternate location.
He said moving the prisons to an already overcrowded Maximum Security Prison was not an option, since the facility did not have a proper alarm system.
In going forward, Richard said the association would enlighten the public on its growing challenges this month.
Weighing in on the issue, Khan said prisoners did not need guns and ammunition to have a jail break. “All that is required is a box of matches which is so accessible in prison and easy to conceal,” he said.
Faced with massive overcrowding and inhumane conditions, Khan said a few frustrated prisoners “might just lose it and all hell would break lose. They cannot get a day in trial. Everything might come to a climax. Don’t think they are not looking on to the 52 part heard matters that are pending and then going to court and can’t get a trial.
“Trinidadians have a tendency to copycat, what happened in Guyana might very well be patterned here,” Khan said.
Khan said the fact that prisoners were still relieving themselves in pails and toilet paper was not readily available meant “this could be a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a ticking time bomb.”
Former inspector of prisons, Daniel Khan concurred with Richards.
“When your neighbour’s house is on fire you should wet yours.”
Khan said within recent times every minister in charge of prisons had recommended “the shutdown of the Port-of-Spain Prison. I supported this recommendation every time it was made and documented such in my 2012 report.”
In that report, Khan stated that the extent of upgrades were needed in order to bring it to a standard in which humane, hygienic and sanitary conditions prevail would make it economically infeasible to continue its operations.
“It is also recommended that an engineering team be established that would visit each prison with a view to determining its current state of each prison and give recommendations on improving the structure of such buildings.”
Calls to acting Commissioner of Prisons Williams Alexander’s cellphone yesterday went unanswered.