As of yesterday, about 300 prisoners from the Camp Street Prison who were evacuated to Lusignan following Sunday’s fire and riot at the facility have been released, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said last night.
Of that number, approximately 56, who were scheduled to be released this month, were granted remissions by the minister.
“We have also done that extraordinary thing which I have powers to do, but which it would appear that the PSC (Private Sector Commission) feels I couldn’t do, and released early a number of prisoners that way. Their early date of release was around now or by month end,” Ramjattan told reporters at the Pegasus Hotel.
“I granted them the remission because I understand from the prisons that they were of good behaviour and I could give remission and it is a very wide discretion that I have,” he added.
He made reference to consternation from the PSC on statements he made about the application of remissions, and explained that it was granted to persons who were very near to the completion of their sentences.
The PSC had on Tuesday pointed to excerpts of a Guyana Chronicle article which quoted him as saying “when you are going to serve a five year term…If you are of good behaviour, you can get some remission from me. I can give you as the Minister and the authority.”
The PSC said that having sought legal advice, it is of the view that the Minister is not empowered to do so and that this statement should be corrected.
Ramjattan maintained yesterday that the law empowers him to make provision for remissions and that was what he did. “The PSC must also understand that it is very extraordinary circumstances and the person that made the statement seems not to have a heart,” he said.
Further, he explained that the decision was also taken since some of the prisoners would have “been sent home in any event in the next two weeks, so if I do that now what is the big deal?” while also saying that he felt that the PSC would have “been complimentary” for the initiative taken.
The PSC has also called for full information to be provided by the government on the inmates who have been released. It is unclear if this will be done.
Ramjattan said that plans are swiftly forging ahead to avail suitable dwelling conditions for the prisoners being temporarily housed at Lusignan even as prison officials are simultaneously looking to have more remissions from the other prisons at Timerhi and Berbice.
“Today the construction work at Lusignan, for better conditions of the prisoners that are still there, were being executed…. We are building some sheds on tarmacked flooring so that the mud is being filled with sand and asphalted and then three or four sheds are going up so that the rain and the elements can’t beat down on the prisoners, as is happening right now,” he explained.
“In the meantime, we have some of the inmates sent to other prisons. Some have gone to Mazaruni, some to New Amsterdam, a number to Timehri.
“The remissions were granted to about 56 so far but we now have to go to the other prisons and find out who was of good behaviour and things like that. If we can grant more remissions say to New Amsterdam then we have more space to carry some more to New Amsterdam.
He also reiterated that while nearly all of the prison’s records were destroyed by the fire, those pertaining to current prisoners were saved. “Some records that were in ledgers were taken out and that pertains to the prison roll, as far as I know,” he said
The Joint Services are continuing to search for the eight prison escapees but up to press time none had been located.
A top government official told Stabroek News that government wants to assure the nation that “everything was being done to find these men”. However, he said that the public should be understanding that the forces cannot share planned strategies with the media since “prisoners also read newspapers.”
“How can I say what we are doing eh? Why would you want me to say what we are doing? So that the escapees can say ‘Eh heh boy they have xyz planned for so and so back dams and so on, so let us go instead to so so so and leave those fools to search there’. Is that what you want?” he questioned.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Security said that the public should stay tuned to all mediums of communication for updates.
It was pointed out to him that it wasn’t until hours after the fire on Sunday that it was made public that prisoners – some considered very dangerous – had escaped the institution. Ramjattan in reply said that he had given a statement to the Department of Public Information since around 5:30pm on Sunday which was to be disseminated.
“It was all over social media and our DPI Department of Public Information. Whatever statement I made I intended that it be played on radio, television and everywhere else and if it wasn’t I should not be blamed for that,” he said.
“I made it immediately after giving the brief to the President and that was about 5:30 (pm). I heard about the situation around 4:45 (pm). I got the first call and then I went straight to the president to tell him we are in some dire circumstances. There was some fire going up I saw the heavy smoke myself and I did that and then I got the people and did a statement for the press,” he added.