Prison CoI granted two-month extension to complete probe

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The three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) probing the March 3, 2016 riot at the Camp Street prison in Georgetown which left 17 inmates dead and several others injured, has been granted a two-month extension by the government to complete its work.
 Today, the Commission will resume its hearings at the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Public Service building located at Lot 164 Waterloo Street, South Cummingsburg, Georgetown from 10:00hrs.
The Commission, which began its work on March 7, 2016, was initially given March 15 as the deadline to present its findings and recommendations; however that timeline was not honoured.
On March 29, the Commission’s Counsel, Excellence Dazzle announced that the sittings were put on hold awaiting a request for an extension from the Government.
The request was reportedly granted by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who recently returned from an official visit from China.
The Commission was established by President David Granger following three days of unrest at the penitentiary, located in the heart of the capital. It is chaired by former High Court Judge, Justice James Patterson and includes Human rights coordinator Merle Mendonca and former Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine. The trio was tasked with inquiring “… into all the circumstances surrounding the death of 17 prisoners from the Camp Street Prison, Georgetown, on the morning of Thursday 3rd of March, 2016, to report the findings and conclusions to the Minister of Public Security and to make recommendations on any action that should be taken to avoid a recurrence”.
Among the Terms of Reference (ToRs) to guide them during the Inquiry are: to investigate, examine and report on “the causes, circumstances and conditions that led to the disturbances on (Thursday morning) that resulted in the death of 17 prisoners and any other subsequent disturbances at the Camp Street Prisons, Georgetown” and also “inquire into the nature of all injuries sustained by the prisoners during the disturbances on (Thursday morning) and any other subsequent disturbances”.
From left, Retired Prison Chief Dale Erskine; Justice James Patterson; and Human Rights activist Merle Mendonca
From left, former Prison Chief Dale Erskine; Retired Justice James Patterson; and Human Rights activist Merle Mendonca

The Commissioners will also have to “determine whether the conduct of the staff of the Guyana Prisons Service who were on duty on (Thursday morning) and thereafter was in conformity with the Standard Operating Procedures of the Guyana Prisons Service”; as well as to “determine whether the deaths of the 17 prisoners was as a result of negligence, abandonment of duty, disregard of instructions, inaction of the Prison Officers who were on duty on (Wednesday night and Thursday morning).”

In addition, after probing the incident, the three-member CoI is expected to make comprehensive recommendations to ensure the safety of the prisons henceforth.
The CoI are required to make recommendations in the areas of improving the physical infrastructure of the prison; security arrangements in relation to the custody, management and control of prisoners; appropriate treatment of prisoners in compliance with legal and other requirements, and to prevent a recurrence of any such disturbances.
The Commission has already heard several inmates who were witness to the deadly March 3 fire and conducted two visits to the scene.
On the morning of Thursday, March 3, a fire which was started by inmates in the Capital A Block at the Georgetown Prison spiralled out of control leading to the deaths of 17 inmates and severe injuries to several others.
The prisoners were protesting after joint services ranks raided the penitentiary and seized a number of contraband items, including cellular phones and narcotics.
The protest began on March 1 and saw a number of small fires lit; however, those were quickly extinguished by authorities.

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