- urges fast track of Mazaruni extension, privatisation of prisons
In the wake of last Sunday’s inferno that gutted the wooden Camp Street prison, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has criticised the slow pace of prison reform that allowed the catastrophe to occur. In addition, the body made it clear that it holds the government accountable.
According to the PSC, prison reform in its entirety should be a top priority of the government. It noted that much of the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry into a fire at the same facility last year were not implemented.
The PSC also expressed disappointment that there are monies allocated by the Ministry of Finance (almost $30B) towards the Ministry of Public Security that remain unspent. In view of this, it called for government to operate more quickly. But the commission also had recommendations of its own.
It called for the immediate fast track of the Mazaruni Prison modification and that the facilities in Georgetown be only for prisoners awaiting trial. In addition, the business representative body called for the judiciary to be pushed harder to clear up back logs.
“Ensure more civil society leaders are placed on prison related boards,” the PSC urged. “And consider privatising the prison system. (Also) review proposals for the establishment of a half-way house in the rehabilitative process…and immediately look at working conditions for prison officers.”
“We are sure that the responsible Minister is aware of what else should be done. We need to get it done faster. We urge the Government of Guyana to ensure that by the re-capturing of the dangerous prisoners that are on the loose, that the stability of our society is ensured.”
Urging Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, his Ministry and the Cabinet to do more, the PSC also called on citizens to report any suspicious incidents to the Guyana Police Force.
“The re-occurrences of Sunday must not be repeated. It could have been much worse. The PSC holds the Government of Guyana accountable and ask that top priority be given to the entire process of Prison reform.”
According to the PSC, it has observed with disappointment over the years the slow pace of implementing measures to mitigate the “results of a slow court system, the mixing of remand and other prisoners with serious crime prisoners and other causal factors that have placed us where we are with regards to prison management.”
The Commission said that enough attention was not paid by government to the deterioration of the prison system. It noted that efforts to speed up the judiciary were not enough, resulting in the overcrowding and general decay of the system.
Last year March, a fire had raged through the Camp Street Prison and claimed the lives of 17 prisoners. Afterwards, a Commission of Inquiry which cost the treasury some $13M was ordered by President David Granger.
According to the report compiled by the commissioners, the combination of overcrowded, uncomfortable and unhygienic confinement are all ideal conditions for epidemics, for gangs to prosper and to propagate discontent.
Moreover, the CoI found that reducing numbers in prison to manageable levels is the single most important priority for establishing safe, humane and purposeful prisons.
It was further noted that repeat offenders have increased by over 100%, “indicating not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but also the need for a more comprehensive and structured partnership within the wider justice system.”
But despite these recommendations, Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels himself confirmed that at the time of the fire, over 1000 prisoners were being housed at the prison – a prison originally built to house nearly half that number.
Identities of prisoners
Meanwhile, the PSC also urged the Government to fully declare the identities of persons being granted bail. It also called for the histories and other information of those prisoners to be released, while urging the police to monitor these persons, wherever possible.
“We urge the authorities to publish the true and accurate count of prisoners held prior to the incident, the amount transferred and the unaccounted prisoners. The lack of accurate official information has created much room for speculation and is fuelling fear in our society.”
PSC also expressed disagreement with the utterances of Ramjattan, who at a press conference after the fire had said that he could grant remissions to prisoners serving a jail term; once they are classified as prisoners with good behaviour.
“The PSC, having sought legal advice is of the view that the Minister is not empowered to do so and that this statement should be corrected,” the Private Sector body elucidated.