Works ongoing to expand the Mazaruni Prison into a state-of-the-art facility to accept more inmates from the coast is on schedule, acting Director of Prisons Galdwin Samuels said.
“Based on the schedule, [the contractors] are on target in terms of where they expect to be at this point. Work is still being done on the foundation of the building because it is massive works that have to be done in order to facilitate the structure that would be going down there,” Samuels noted in a recent interview with <<<<INews>>>.
Following the July 2017 jailbreak and fire which destroyed the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, Government revealed plans to expand the Mazaruni Prison – a project that will cost some $2 billion but aims to streamline the local prison system as well as reduce the overpopulation at the penitentiaries on the coast.
Apart from a new wing to accommodate an additional 400 prisoners, these works will also see the expansion of offices, inmate living facilities, staff and family living facilities, training facilities, as well as the construction of a school, daycare centre and places of worship at the Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) prison.
Last December, the contracts for the project was awarded to A Nazir and Sons Contracting ($28.1 million) and R Kissoon Contracting Services Limited ($30.4 million).
However, despite the Prisons Director saying the works are on target, the 2018 mid-year report released last month revealed that construction works at the Mazaruni Prison were delayed for the first half of the year.
The report blamed overtopping of the Mazaruni River which resulted in delayed mobilisation of the contractor.
“Works are anticipated to intensify throughout the second half (of 2018) and into 2019,” the report also adds. The sloth of implementing this project has, however, had an effect on overall spending.
For instance, the mid-year report noted that only $21 million was actually spent; out of the $1.5 billion allocated to the Prison Service from the 2018 National Budget.
The expansion of the Mazaruni Prison was first floated around following the March 2016 riots at the Georgetown Prisons during which some 17 inmates were killed and several others along with prison staff were injured in a fire.
A subsequent probe was launched and found, among various issues, significant overcrowding at the facility and one of the recommendations made was to build another prison outside of the city.
However, Government maintained that such a move is unfeasible and instead set aside $369 million in the 2017 Budget for the expansion of the Region Seven penitentiary to offset the overcrowding at the urban prisons but the contract was not awarded until last December, five months after the July 9, 2017, prison fire at the Camp Street penitentiary.
Prisoners had set that facility on fire, occasioning its complete destruction except for a newly built brick building which is still standing intact. The act was said to be a distraction for the escape of a few inmates, including convicted murderers Mark Royden Durant, also called “Royden Williams”; Uree Varswyck: Stafrei Hopkinson Alexander and Cobena Stephens – all deemed armed and dangerous. That incident also resulted in the death of prison officer Odinga Wickham, who lost his life after he was shot by prisoners during the prison break.
Following that incident, over 1000 prisoners housed at the Georgetown penitentiary were displaced. While some were moved to Mazaruni or granted early release or bail, others had remained at the Lusignan Prison, on the East Coast of Demerara, under strained circumstances. It was then that another contingent escaped. Since these two jailbreaks, all but two prison escapees – Paul Goriah and Cobena Stephens – have either been recaptured or killed.
Meanwhile, the mid-year report also states that Government will be tendering for designs for a new prison at Georgetown by year end.