Former president and current Opposition leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has come down hard on the coalition government, more so its security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan over the instability surrounding the penal system.
Jagdeo at his most recent press briefing noted that for each of the three years that the coalition Government has been in office, there were jailbreaks and riots at various prisons.
Addressing the Public Security Minister on his portfolio Jagdeo stated that “Ramjattan’s incompetence knows no limit. So, we have had another fiasco at the prison. We warned about this … but he is impervious to criticism.”
The Opposition Leader believes that Ramjattan has underperformed in every single area of his responsibility, stating that crime was on a rampant increase and the Minister has made a mess of the prison system.
He recalled that the then Opposition used to argue that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration was weak on law and order, which has now come back to haunt them.
“Because almost three years you had some burning of the prison and loss of life … because of the incompetence … they created this moral hazard by their own acts,” he asserted.
On Monday October 15, 2018, three inmates from the Lusignan penitentiary, one of whom has since been recaptured, scaled the fence of the Holding Bay area and escaped.
Later that night, several inmates at the facility started a riot over the food they were served and in retaliation, ranks opened fire on them resulting in at least 10 of them being injured.
At a press conference following these incidents, Ramjattan lamented that he did not know what else could be done to address the troubles within the prison system.
“I don’t have any other suggestions … for their security, for the citizens’ security as to what we can do there … So, look, the thing gives me headache every night,” the Minister stated.
He went on to disclose that the requests made to various international agencies for funding to address the state of affairs within the prison system have been rejected and now the only solution would be to await money Guyana will earn from oil production in two years’ time.
Back in early July 2017, eight prisoners, a few of them high-profile criminals, escaped from the Camp Street Prison. There was a huge riot that led to a massive fire which destroyed a large section of the penitentiary. While most of them were recaptured, a few remain on the run.
With the transfer of most of these prisoners to other prisons, 13 of them escaped from Lusignan Prison. Two escapees, Paul Goriah and Cobena Stephens, are still on the run.
Another major riot erupted there, and there were calls for investigations based on the inhumane conditions of the facility.
In March 2016, the Camp Street Prison was destroyed when prisoners started rioting under similar circumstances. Seventeen inmates died because of burns, smoke inhalation and injuries received during the unrest. It was the worst prison riot in Guyana.
Jagdeo said the coalition was warned about its actions after March 2016, as it related to the fact that after the prisoners set fire to the jail, they secured a meeting with a member of the executive.
“They created a moral hazard there … where it ends?” he questioned, noting that prisoners have been given the impression that if they resorted to riotous actions, their demands would be met.
He said, “In the long term, their actions will affect us … we have to be extremely cautious about our approach (with the release of prisoners and not sow the seed for another crisis in the future).”
Minister of State Joseph Harmon said Friday that Ramjattan has met with a team of persons with expertise to discuss possible solutions to address the issues facing the Guyana Prisons Service (GPS). Ramjattan did not disclose what was discussed or whom he had met with.
The Private Sector Commission (PSC), in a letter to Minister Ramjattan, indicated its concern on a number of issues affecting the prisons in Guyana and, by virtue of this, public safety in the country.
The Commission noted that in a recent meeting of the Management Board of the Prisons, it was highlighted that there was a general lack of adequate security at all of the prisons, a lack of fire prevention systems, the lack of transportation to enable movement of prisoners and food where necessary, and the inadequacy of the current complement of prisons to safely house the prison population.
It further stated that while the Commission is concerned about the safety and security of the public, it is also disturbed by the less-than-humane conditions under which the inmate population at the Lusignan Prison is housed.