Wood should be avoided in any new prison

Dear Editor,

First, I offer my sincere condolences to the grieving family of the deceased prison officer.

On being made aware of the fire at the Georgetown Prison, my first reaction was “Not again”, followed shortly by “What’s next”.  What is there to be said, that has not before been said?  There will be finger-pointing and commissions; shame and blame.

After the deadly fire of March 2016, lawyer Selwyn Pieters representing the Guyana Prison Service stated that the Guyana government needed to invest in the construction of a brick prison, particularly since the main prison is located in the city of Georgetown, which is also the country’s business capital. He further went on to point out that the Officer-in-Charge of the Georgetown Prisons, in his testimony, had said the old wooden structures made it easy for inmates to hide contraband, and posed challenges for officers assigned to the living units. “Wood buildings at the Georgetown prisons… have their place, and their place now is [as] historic relics; those are not places to house prisoners,” Pieters told the commission at that time.

What was the purpose of a commission if their recommendations are not adhered to?  Was the commission used as the mythical sop to Cerberus? One has to wonder if the responsible governmental agencies conducted a thorough cause analysis following the previous tragedy.  Perhaps if the inmates were given identifiable prison garb, such as is done in prisons the world over then the initial getaway and consequent recapturing would not prove such an arduous task.

Some degree of accountability is demanded of the prison personnel. The Director of Prisons said that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were adhered to as the events unfolded.  There were also reports of gunshots being fired. Gunshots fired by whom? Perhaps further explanation is necessary to explain the fact that after the fire within the prison confines, several prisoners were being held in the Prison Officers Club, and they also set fire to the building.  Were they searched prior to being taken to the new place of safety, bearing in mind the circumstances under which they were departing their previous residence?  How did this surfeit of incendiary agents find its way within the walls of the prison?

How often are cells searched? What manner of search is conducted on visitors?  What do the prisoners know that the prison personnel don’t, but should know?

According to the Director it is known the fire was a distraction so that Uree Varswyk and Mark Royden Williams could escape.

As for the construction of jukers or other implements of harm, the officials had better take notice.   What implement was used to inflict the wounds on now deceased warder Hubert Trim?

There was no mention made of a sprinkler system being in place at the prison. What an archaic mode of firefighting, in that the water pressure had to be lowered in other areas in order to ensure a maximum supply at the prison.

There appear to be far more questions than answers.  I am sure that there will be action now, especially with the death of a prison officer in the execution of his duty.  From the ashes of the burnt buildings, a sad and gloomy picture emerges for the world to view, one that reflects the state of the country and the plight of the people.  The resulting message is loud and clear: The Georgetown jail should not be allowed to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes.

On a cautionary note: In building the new prison, the government could and should avoid wood. Let it be concrete.

Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Sam

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