The authorities are impotent in handling the prison situation

Dear Editor,

Have the authorities been aware of the goings-on in the prisons in Guyana over the past 15 months?

Below I list chronologically a few of the shocking incidents that were reported in the media regarding prisoners in Guyana’s most secure jail, following the March 3, 2016 prison fiasco where 17 prisoners were burnt to death after they clashed with police and prison authorities.

Under the caption, ‘Seized items are returned to prison officers -Commander Hicken’, GT on April 16, 2016, stated, “the Commission heard the shocking revelation that prison wardens are the ones that sell mobile phones to prisoners. This was the testimony of Carl Brown, an inmate who is currently severing 13 years for murder. It was explained that prisoners can purchase the mobile devices for $7000 in the Camp Street Prison. Brown told Commissioners that he has his seventh phone since being behind bars, and admitted that he would often update his Facebook account about life in prison…Brown had also told the Commission that whenever a phone is seized, a fee is paid and the phone is returned.”

On May 16, 2016, KN reported that a check on the Georgetown prison “unearthed 44 cell phones, 30 cell phone batteries and approximately 173 improvised weapons that included kitchen knives, screwdrivers and a hacksaw blade” and “a quantity of razor blades, lighters, files and tattoo machines”.

SN, under the caption, ‘Prison raids uncover weapons, phones, drugs’, (Nov 13, 2016), declared, “According to a Ministry of Presidency statement, at the Georgetown Prison 21 improvised weapons and knives, 20 razor blades, 558 grammes of marijuana, 22 cellular phones and five gallons of homemade wine, along with a number of other banned items were found. It added that a lesser number of similar items were found at the New Amsterdam Prison.

“The statement noted that the security forces are gravely concerned by the recovery of such a large haul of contraband at the Georgetown Prison, which was only last searched just under two months ago on September 23, 2016”.

On Feb 12, 2017, Leroy Smith, of the Newsroom.gy outlet reported that a prisoner had escaped from the Camp Street jail. The prisoner scaled the fence “of what is supposed to be a highly-secured facility”.

After these publicly-known critical incidents, did the authorities take any drastic steps to mitigate the chance of flare-up or escape? One would expect that each such incident was a vigorous wake-up call for a possible revolt. How could the authorities not see the writing on the wall?

The authorities have no excuse. The Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan and the Director of Prisons, Gladwyn Samuels, should resign, following the razing of the Georgetown Prison on July 9. The Guyanese people have had to bear the torment of criminals on a day-to-day basis; this prison debacle is more than too much.

The prison should not be rebuilt at the present site since there have been numerous incidents of persons throwing contraband items over the fence to aid a prison revolt and escape. I agree with the many who think it is prudent to build such an institution on one of Guyana’s many islands.

The authorities obviously are impotent in handling the prison situation. They should, therefore, seek help urgently and desperately from one of the ‘ABC’ countries to diffuse the situation.

 Yours faithfully,

 Devanand Bhagwan

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