Former Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee yesterday said the former PPP/C administration had started the reformation of the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) but accused the current government of shelving it.
Following last Sunday’s jailbreak and fire at the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, Rohee yesterday said the current David Granger-led administration should accept blame for the tragedy, in which six inmates escaped and a prison officer was killed, while some of his colleagues were wounded.
While critics have said that the prison system deteriorated significantly under Rohee’s watch, he told Sunday Stabroek yesterday that checks of the records would see that several initiatives were taken during his tenure, including the creation of a new strategic plan spearheaded by a Strategic Management Board comprising civilians. He said he is unclear what has happened to this board.
Rohee, who maintained that he is qualified to speak on what he called the government’s failure to put measures in place to prevent Sunday’s disaster, said that he is hearing talk of government creating a plan but little has been said about it. The previous plan would have cost the then government hundreds of millions of dollars.
“What we did was to develop that plan in stages, in terms of the money that was to be allocated. All of the money could not have been allocated in one budget, so we did an annualized projection of money to be spent in order to finance the plan,” he said.
He said that the PPP/C does not agree with a new plan because in the absence of information about what has happened with the previous plan.
“We cannot accept that there is need for a new plan,” he said. “What is the justification for dispensing of one simply because there was a change of administration ….and you need to have a new plan because you are the new kid on the block? It doesn’t make financial, economic and even strategic sense,” he added.
What is of a major concern to him, he said, is the apparent failure to computerise the GPS even though money was allocated in 2014 for the purchase of needed equipment to do so.
Following last week’s fire, both Prisons Director Gladwin Samuels and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan had said that a large percentage of the prison records had been burnt. This apparently caused a delay of the identification of prisoners.
Rohee informed that the past administration had made “leaps and bounds” in computerising the entire prison system and in the 2014 budget there was an allocation for 22 additional computers in addition to the existing 16. He said that there were about 12 different functions that the Integrated Crime Infor-mation System (ICIS) required. He added that the system was supposed to have a module so that whenever a prisoner enters the prison their bio data, information pertaining to his skills and sentence is entered into the system along with other information. “So at the click of a button, you know exactly not only how many prisoners you have but also the age, the bio data, the skills, their education level …so when we heard about these records being burnt up, all of that could have been avoided if all of it was on one flash drive …or you store it on file,” Rohee said.
According to Rohee, the then government had also planned to change the name of the GPS to the Guyana Prison and Correctional Service. “I see they coming back to that now because correctional has a certain connotation and this would mean that the whole direction of the prison will not only be custodial but also preventative or what some will call correctional,” he added.
Turning his attention to the Lusignan Prison, he said it was identified to be a model correctional prison for the first offenders. “…Move them entirely from Camp Street and take them all, the first offenders, for things like some amounts of marijuana, stealing a bicycle, small incidents of larceny from the person…that prison would then be transformed into a correctional-type of prison,” he said.
According to Rohee, under his tenure the Sentence Management Board was also established under the Chairmanship of Captain Gerry Gouveia. He said that this board would meet every month with those in charge of all the prisons for assessments and to take any necessary corrective action.
Rohee told Sunday Stabroek that there was also the prison visiting committees, made up of civilian members. “You see, unless you have civilian oversight at certain levels in the prison, then you will always have these lapses in the system because the civilian participation helps to bring a new dimension to how prisons ought to function,” he said.
He said that there was also the Agriculture Deve-lopment Board, a board for training and education of prisoners. “So we had an entire raft of structures internal to the prison service …all of that has been disbanded but when you look at all these things in their totality, they add up,” he added.
Rohee further said that efforts were made to ensure that there were constant engagements between the prison administration and the civilian bodies that were assisting the prisons. He said that one had to look at all the efforts combined to see PPP/C’s efforts to reform the prison system.
He accused the current government of throwing all of the PPP/C’s efforts “behind their back” when it took office.