Much more needs to be done to bring sad state of affairs at the prisons under control

Dear Editor,

I am happy that the management of the Guyana Prison Service is attempting to recruit fit and proper persons for the prison service. According to Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels applicants are now required to do drug tests before recruitment. Some have failed the tests. In addition, I recently saw in the daily papers the names, addresses and photographs of some aspirants for the job. All these recruitment tactics and perhaps many more are designed  to induct suitable ranks in the system: To curb the ridiculous ease with which illicit items are entering the various prisons and to suppress the rampant corruption in that institution. However, although this is a commendable and giant step in the right direction much more needs to be done to bring the     exist-ing sad state of affairs at the prisons under control. There must be a broader and deeper shift in the paradigm. In the recruitment process the authorities should establish assessment centres where applicants would be assessed by trained assessors.  Sometime ago I recommended this course of action as part of the Guyana Police Force recruitment strategy- no movement yet in that direction.

It is even more apposite for the Guyana Prison Service. An assessment centre is widely accepted for recommending personnel actions in a variety of occupations, including the prison service. It is a place where a series of events, exercises or scenarios take place. It is one of the best methods available for selecting suitable candidates for either employment or advancement in law enforcement agencies.

A brief analysis of the recruitment system in the GPS revealed that as long as an applicant passed the written examination, is medically fit, produced a clean police record, is drug free and cleared by simple background checks he is guaranteed entry into the prison system. However, there is no testing for unacceptable behavioural traits. No evaluation  for psychological behaviour. Hence,   undesirables including psychopaths and others coming from the society with real hustlers’ mentality can easily become prison officers.

Over the years the GPS has come under heavy scrutiny and criticism from Commissions of Inquiry and elsewhere. Non- compliance with some of the COI’s recommendations has resulted in fiery and deadly consequences in the prisons. Several persons in authority have posited statements to the effect that: There are just a few rogue elements that we have to get rid of; If they cannot do the job properly, they should just leave; It is just some rotten apples in the barrel that we have to deal with.

Those statements are nothing more than self-serving, superficial facade, intended to draw attention away from their own failure. The real issue might not be the rotten apples but the barrel. Perhaps, it is the barrel that is causing the apples to spoil. There might be the need to change some of the staves and or the quality of materials that make up the barrel. The task of corruption control is to examine the barrel, not just the apples, the organisation not just the individuals in it because corrupt prison officers are made, not born.

Perry puts the issue succinctly,  “Those who serve the public must be held at higher standard of honesty and care for the public good than the general citizenry. A higher standard is not a double standard. Persons accepting position of public trust take on new obligations and are free not to accept them if they do not want to live up to the higher standard.”

Yours faithfully

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of Police

(Retired)

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