Ed­i­to­rial Georgetown Prison and inse­cu­rity

Stabroek News - - NEWS -

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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