Prison unrest: Many questions still unanswered- Opposition Leader

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…says fire now a useful tool to get Govt’s attention

Leader of the Opposition Dr Bharat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the Government of bending to the demands of prisoners, explaining that fire has now become an effective tool used by inmates to get what they want.

Jagdeo said on Wednesday during a press conference that the media has focused much of its attention on overcrowding as one of the main reasons that led to the unrest, but he believes it goes beyond that.

He criticised Government for negotiating with prisoners during last year’s deadly prison riot that left 17 inmates dead, and following the recent incident, deciding to release close to 100 of the inmates on self-bail or shortened prison terms.

The Camp Street Prison was razed by fire set by prisoners recently

“What is there to say? Can anyone in the media or elsewhere, or in this Government, in a prison now that is not overcrowded say that fire will not be used as a tool, since it is an effective tool to secure early release or to secure the attention of the Executive?” he questioned.

Jagdeo again warned that such moves place Government in a moral fix and sets a bad precedent in which prisoners would believe they could cause unrest to pressure the authorities into releasing them.

“Addressing issues at the prison is important. But the moral hazard issue goes beyond just issues of conditions of the prisons,” the Opposition Leader posited.

Further, Jagdeo said the Opposition is confounded about the manner in which the Government is going about executing its duties, as there seems to be an issue when it comes to the ‘Separation of Power’.

He was making reference to a Government Minister giving instructions to the Magistracy. “We assumed that these people were placed in prison and not given bail for a reason. So what changed? Is it just the fire? And how could people, as we saw, who were convicted for rape and assault… repeat offenders for serious offences, how come they secured bail,” he further questioned.

However, Jagdeo said Government had informed the public that the people who secured bail were people who were held for minor offences and were scheduled to be released shortly.

“There are so many unanswered questions that seem to have been swept under the carpet on this matter,” the former President declared.

The mere fact that greater emphasis is being placed on conditions at the prisons, Jagdeo thinks that it is being used to absolve the Government of any responsibility. “And they are responsible. They have stewardship in Government. Just like how (David) Granger blamed us for the floods in 2005, but wouldn’t take ownership for the floods now.”

The Opposition also reiterated its disappointment over a brief with the Government on the prison unrest. The meeting which was held last week has been described as an “exercise in futility.”

“Nothing that wasn’t in the public domain before was disclosed to us. So, the brief was exactly what they did at the press conference and whatever they have been saying,” Opposition MP Juan Edghill explained, stating that he was fully convinced that it was only meant to show that the Government met with the Opposition.

He said attempts by the Opposition to ask questions where there were grey areas for clarity were met with very arrogant responses from Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.

Mere days after the Camp Street Prison fire, a fire erupted at the Lusignan penitentiary, on the East Coast of Demerara, as protestation against garbage and flooding in the facilities where the prisoners were held.

Again, it was rewarded with immediate success, as a clean-up campaign was initiated. The Opposition Leader again warned against the dangers of this approach.

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