Calm after the storm…Govt promises to address grievances of prisoners

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BY: DEVINA SAMAROO

The barrage of bullets, hurling of teargas, and escaped prisoners making threats to conflagrate the overcrowded penitentiary all marked day three of the historic riot that erupted at the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, Guyana.

calmDSC_1868DSC_1859DSC_1964However, normalcy has since been restored at the main penal complex and assurances given that it will remain that way, unless government fails to meet the demands made by the aggrieved prisoners.

In light of the major three-day uprising, which erupted after prohibited items were confiscated from the inmates, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and State Minister Joseph Harmon accompanied by other officials met with some of the prisoners where both parties negotiated and eventually arrived at an amicable solution to the problem.

Upon emerging from the meeting, both Ramjattan and Harmon assured the media that the prisoners have agreed to stand down.

“They have given us a commitment that when they get back into the prisons, they will speak to the other prisoners to ensure that there is no further escalation in what has taken place… so I think we have sort of a gentleman’s agreement on both sides and we are going to try to keep our end of the bargain and they are going to keep theirs,” Harmon announced.

Ramjattan also disclosed similar statements: “They promised that they are going to calm down now that they’ve seen us, senior members of government because that’s what they wanted”.

The Minister further divulged that the prisoners have grievances with prison officers, some of the magistrates, the length of time they are on remand, not having trials, the food, and the overall living conditions. He noted too that inmates demanded longer periods for making contact with their family back home.

In response, Ramjattan said he guaranteed that government will take steps immediately to ensure their concerns are addressed.

“Those matters that can be dealt with administratively, we will deal with them… those that will be dealt with more technically will be done by the Board of Inquiry,” he told the media outside Camp Street Prison.

He explained that these administrative matters would include ensuring better food is served and the number of telephone calls allowed for prisoners are extended.
Moreover, Ramjattan posited that meeting with the prisoners does not make the government look weak.
“It is meeting them to meet their demand and I feel it’s a useful thing, hearing their versions too, at our level” he expressed.

Day three disasters
The mayhem quieted down on Thursday evening but the inmates started anew with more unrest early Friday morning. Another fire was lit but quick response from the servicemen extinguished the flames before it could spread as the previous days.

Nonetheless, the prisoners fuelled with anger, continued to make loud noises and hurl objects including bricks, at prison wardens and police officers.
Then, pandemonium broke lose after prisoners ripped apart the walls and escaped their cells, running freely around the halls of the prison.
From all indications, the only barrier keeping them inside the compound was the heavily barbwired fence.

Joint Services ranks were called out to get the situation under control and so ignited a standoff between prisoners and servicemen.
Shots begun to be fired and teargas were thrown back and forth between prisoners and officers.
Reports indicated that the enraged prisoners then grabbed propane gas tanks and threatened to conflagrate the jailhouse if the police continued to attack them.
The entire commotion resulted in more injured inmates as well as prison wardens who were rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

In efforts to restore calm at the Camp Street facility, the government officials arrived to meet with a delegation of prisoners to listen to their concerns.
With the meeting in progress, the uproar ended but the atmosphere remained tense.

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