Prison Inquiry seems like a ‘window dressing’ exercise – says Transparency Institute president
– ‘conflict of interest’ with former Prison Director on Commission
Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) President, Reverend Compton Meerabux said the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established to probe the circumstances within the prison system appears to be nothing more than a “window dressing” exercise.
He also contended that there poses a clear “conflict of interest” with the former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine sitting as one of the three Commissioners.
During an interview on Wednesday, Meerabux explained that there needs to be an ongoing comprehensive approach towards reforming the entire prison system but pointed out that the Government’s CoI seems to be “short-termed” and “superficial.”
“It just appears to be a window dressing exercise and not a genuine commission,” he stated.
He further enlightened that by having the former Director of Prisons as one of the Commissioners, it creates a widespread perception that the findings coming out of the CoI will not be credible.
“If you’ve been the Director of Prisons over a period of time then there is a conflict of interest there because he would also be covering up what was going on, you know,” Meerabux asserted.
On that note, Meerabux said the Commissioners should comprise of persons who are knowledgeable of how the prison system works but has nothing to gain or lose by the findings of the CoI.
“I would say that you would need somebody who knows that prison, a neutral person, like in the welfare and social work who knows that prison,” he stated.
Additionally, Attorneys Christopher Ram and Ronald Burch-Smith both contended that it is inappropriate to have the former Prison Director on the Commission since his stewardship of the prisons should itself be investigated.
Erskine presided over the prisons when there was the historic 2002 jailbreak, where five dangerous criminals shot and stabbed their way out of the Camp Street Prison.
Moreover, families of the prisoners who perished during the recent rioting at the Camp Street penitentiary also expressed skepticism with the former Director of Prisons being on the Commission.
Meanwhile, Meerabux underscored the need for a holistic rehabilitation programme to be rolled out for the prisoners and an advanced training programme for the prison officers.
He said programmes for the prisons should aim at developing skills among them, while creating an opportunity for them to earn an honest income.
Making reference to the Mazaruni Prison where inmates are involved in agricultural and livestock farming, Meerabux highlighted that prisoners are meaningfully occupied and therefore, it would be easier for them to be reintegrated into society upon release.
He noted too that their families should also be involved in these rehabilitation processes.
In relation to stamping out corruption within the prison system, Meerabux explained that prison officers should constantly undergo training activities that would teach them to relate to prisoners by studying their case history and their background, as opposed to just treating them as less than human.
“Do not decriminalise them before you start rehabilitating them,” he stated.
In fact, Meerabux said TIGI is willing to provide assistance in crafting such initiatives.
“We are willing to help. We met with President David Granger last year and we said we are willing to help but we are yet to receive an invitation,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Joseph Harmon has already assured the public that the CoI will not be “hoodwinked”.