Georgetown Prison and insecurity

Since the incredibly high-profile prison break in 2002, the Georgetown Prison has been under intense public scrutiny regarding its ability to safely house detainees without undue public and internal risk. Since 2002 also, the Georgetown Prison has comprehensively failed to assure the public of their capacity to control detainees housed therein, and to effectively separate serious criminals from those on remand, and more specifically, from inmates accused of non-violent crimes.

With all the attention on the Guyana Prison System, analysts and commentators have referenced studies and formal inquiries commissioned by various administrations in government over the years, all of which spoke about the necessity for relocating the Camp Street penitentiary from its current snug nestling place in the heart of the city. Many have bemoaned the ease which the location of the Georgetown Prison affords escaping inmates to blend in with the populace or to hijack or steal vehicles to assist them in avoiding recapture.

If the prospect of escape were not enough, the penitentiary’s location, surrounded by homes and businesses, means that members of the public are constantly passing the prison walls in their normal course of business, so the guards positioned in the towers are easily lulled into security lapses by the monotony (barring probable culpability) and can therefore miss the sudden illegal toss of a package over the fences – a practice that we understand has become quite the norm over the years. 

Against this gloomy backdrop, with very little positive rationale to be proffered for the current location of the Georgetown prison, and with all the government commissioned recommendations to the contrary, we learnt from the Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels, that the Guyana Prison Service is scheduled to start the construction of new holding facilities at the Camp Street prison before the end of the year.

The Guyana Prison Service, whose Camp Street prison has been the scene of violent jailbreaks with the loss of lives of several prison warders, a prison that has been hit by several fires with the loss of lives of a high number of prisoners and with the majority of the prison buildings being razed to the ground, is yet to display any resolve to attempt a comprehensive overhaul of the prison system in the country, much less the capital. The prison administrators have not since announced anything sounding remotely like a comprehensive strategy to address a deficiency that has resulted in a high number of lives needlessly lost directly and indirectly as a consequence of this deficiency in the operations of our prison system.

The President of Guyana, David Granger must also be more acutely aware of this than most, given his security credentials and also having the benefit of several studies on the state of our prison system. He hit the right note when he said one year ago that, “We will have to go back to the drawing board to determine whether it is appropriate to have at the centre of the City, a facility like this… We are not going to have the same type of facility here again; that much I can say at present. The devastation here is almost total and we don’t have intention of rebuilding it as it was before.” At the time, this seemed like quite the sensible denouement after the seemingly unthinkable and bizarre stream of events that preceded his tour of the prison facilities at Camp Street, razed to the ground during the deadly jailbreak.

With the passage of time, however, and the absence of a comprehensive “return to the drawing board,” it seems that the prison administration has opted only for a series of ad hoc fixes to alleviate the strain on their very temporary and wholly inadequate facilities like the one at Lusignan and possible elsewhere. What is apposite to note also, is that the authorities are using already budgeted funds to carry out these special fixes and that no comprehensive plan backed by a special fund has been announced to the anxious public. If one is left to speculate, it might seem that the Camp Street prison is set to quietly retain its standing as the major penitentiary in the country, at the heart of the city, but without the city at heart.

The inevitable cry of funding unavailability might be the proffered basis for this continuing inability to tackle a basic matter that has been the single agreed on remedy prescribed by those who have undertaken a study of the Guyana Prison System, and that is, to scale back and remove the Georgetown penitentiary from Camp Street and house it in a more remote location. As much as some work has apparently begun to shore up the Mazaruni prison and make it more secure, the matter of most pressing urgency is the Georgetown prison. It has produced several deadly prison breaks within scant years and fostered the deadliest crime spree in the history of Guyana, yet the approach to an exhaustive remedy is glaringly lacking. The prisons continue to be easily breached in terms of contraband getting in, and there is no real evidence of officers being found culpable and being condignly dealt with internally and through the courts. Yet, the periodic searches continue to yield high numbers of contraband and weapons, and after the inmates of the Lusignan prison were able to post their slaughter of cattle on Facebook, prisoners in the New Amsterdam penitentiary posted their Mothers’ Day celebratory imbibing of alcohol on Facebook as well, throwing the nation once more into shocked disbelief.

If the Guyana prison administration would like us to believe that they have their hand on the problem, and that all that is needed to void future escape attempts is a few stronger cellblocks at Lot 12 Camp Street, in the heart of Georgetown, then they obviously consider the level of gullibility and disconnect of the populace to be at an all-time high.

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