Camp Street Jail should not be allowed to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes- By Yvonne Sam

Camp Street Jail should not be allowed to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes.

By Yvonne Sam

Photo: Rioting inmates of the Camp Street Prison, look out the prison windows in Georgetown, Guyana, Friday, March 4, 2016. 

Firstly permit me to offer my sincere condolences to the grieving family of the deceased Prison Officer Odinga Wickham.  On being made aware of the fire at the Georgetown Prison, my first reaction was” Not again”, followed shortly by “ What’s next”.  What is there to be said, that has not before been said?  There will be finger pointing, and appointees, commissions, omissions and perhaps demissions, there will be shame and blame, tears and fears and the accompanying schisms about the prisons.      

After the deadly fire of March 2016, lawyer Selwyn Pieters representing the Guyana Prison Service openly stated that the Guyana Government needed to invest financially towards the construction of a brick prison, particularly since the main prison is located in the city of Georgetown, which is also the country’s business capital. The lawyer further went on to point out that Kevin Pilgrim, Officer-in-Charge of the Georgetown Prisons, in his testimony, had said the old wooden structures make it easy for inmates to hide contraband, and pose challenges for officers assigned to the living units. The challenges were never identified.

“Wood buildings at the Georgetown prisons… have their place, and their place now is ‘historic relics’; those are not places to house prisoners,” Pieters told the commission at that time.

No answers elicited, —but what was the purpose of a Commission if their recommendations are not adhered to.  Was the Commission used as the mythical sop to Cerberus? One has to wonder if the responsible governmental agencies conducted a thorough Cause mapping following the previous tragedy.

The picture above is certainly not typical of prison inmates. Perhaps if the inmates were given identifiable prison garbs, such as is done in prisons the world over then initial getaway and consequent recapturing would not prove such an arduous task.

Again, at the risk of appearing to be blame laying, nevertheless, some degree of serious accountability is demanded of the prison personnel. The Director of Prisons said that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were adhered to as the events unfolded.  There were also reports of gun shots being fired. Gun shots fired by whom?  Whose gun was used to shoot Jason Maltay  in the leg?  Perhaps further procedural explanation is necessary to explain the fact that after the fire within the prison confines, several prisoners were being held in the Prison Officers Club, and they also set fire to the building.  Were they searched prior to being taken to the new place of safety, bearing in mind the circumstances under which they were departing their previous residence?  How did this surfeit of incendiary agents (matches) find its way within the walls of the prison?  How often are cells searched? What manner of search is conducted on visitors?  Jocularity aside, what do the prisoners know that the prison personnel don’t, but should know?

At the very most according to the Director it is known the fire was a distraction so that Uree Varswyk also known as Malcolm Gordon and Mark Royden Durant known as Royden Williams could escape.  To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson -Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.

In a recent article in Guyanese Online following the stabbing death of an inmate at the New Amsterdam prison, the following was stated —– Prisons—that stressful anxiety producing environment have been known to bring out the strangest behavior in individuals who find themselves behind its walls, but let this incident serve as a pressing need for the corrective personnel to take careful heed.

As for the construction of jukers or other implements of harm, the officials had better take notice and bear in mind that one day they may be at the receiving end.   What implement was used to inflict the wounds on badly wounded warden Hubert Trim?

There was no mention made of a sprinkler system being in place at the prison. What an archaic mode of firefighting, in that the water pressure had to be lowered in other areas in order to ensure maximum supply at the prison.

As I have said before this is certainly not the time for any laying of blame, as there is certainly no absence of supply or recipients.  There appears to be far more questions than answers.  I am that there will most certainly be action now, especially with the death of prison personnel in the execution of duty.  The Union will most certainly be flexing their muscles as they seek parlance with relevant authorities on the matter.

From the ashes of the burnt buildings, a sad and gloomy picture emerges for the world to view.—- one that clearly reflects the state of the country and the plight of the people.

The resultant message is loud and clear— The Georgetown jail should not be allowed to rise like the phoenix from the ashes.

On a cautionary note, to this end a clear message I will send, in building the new prison, the Government could, and should avoid wood. Let it be replete with concrete.

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  • Born Guyanese  On 07/14/2017 at 12:01 pm

    I have for a long time, suggested that the time has come for the prison to be moved from its present location in the city, to somewhere on the east bank or east coast. It is truly an ‘eye-sore’ in the middle of our ‘garden city’, a location that could be put to better use for government offices or a state-of-the art shopping complex, or even a modern housing complex. There really is no shortage of places where the prison could be re-located.

  • guyaneseonline  On 07/17/2017 at 6:20 am

    The questions have all been answered—Riot revealed the social texture of the Camp Street Prison.
    By Yvonne Sam

    Dear Editor,
    The facts have been borne out by the acts
    After I had written my two bits about the recent fire at Camp Street Prison, it was my primary intention to relegate myself to the position of onlooker. However, I was forced to emerge from my quasi-hibernation and respond to the concerns expressed by Clement Rohee in “There are more questions than answers about the events at the Camp Street Jail” Stabroek News July 13.The truth be told, or the facts be stated, Mr. Rohee the events that unfolded on July 10, 2017 have furnished you not only with the immediate answers, but have also addressed some residual unasked questions from the more tragic occurrence of March 4, 2016, that sent sixteen inmates under the charge of the penal system to an early demise.
    At this juncture a search for answers is totally unnecessary; instead a cure for the cancer that ails the prison system should be the priority. By its very definition a prison riot is symbolic of loss of control by prison administrators, and in addition serves to lay bare weaknesses in facilities, operating procedures or organization. The safeness of prison employees, inmates, and residents of the immediate area around where the prison is located , not to mention the fiscal cost of prison riots and who shoulders the costs makes their prevention and management a critical issue. Vital criminal justice issues that must be addressed are how prisons are renovated, how prisons are staffed, and how staff are used and reinforced during riots or uprisings. Aggressive planning and preparation coupled with reactive problem solving is the most effective approach to resolution. Once the previous riot had been resolved, the entire incident should have served as a sterling opportunity for correctional leaders to develop policies that reflect what they have learned, provided they listened carefully and thought clearly about the events. Previously unrecognized problems are remedied. Following the fire of March 2016 a riot plan should have been designed and formulated, ready for use at the next sign or inkling of unrest. This plan should be a comprehensive guide fully delineating the special responsibilities to be met, the resources to be utilized and the contribution of each individual or group involved. It should be representative of the correctional agency’s principles and strategies for resolution. While broad -gauged planning based on knowledge of other incidents and lessons learned from the past cannot ward off all prison riots, it can however help corrective administrators avert some disturbances, and take action to prevent small incidents from escalating. The prison administrators should clearly pinpoint areas of most concern to them within the prison and these issues specifically addressed.
    Notwithstanding the fact that no system is infallible, nevertheless riot avoidance can be successfully brought about through a combination of constant vigilance and physical control.
    Something to which much attention has not been paid, and one which is of serious concern is the fact that prisons do not operate in a vacuum, but are intrinsic parts of communities and larger correctional systems. By reading daily newspapers, and also maintaining good relationships with elected officials will assist in keeping prison administrators in line with public sentiments and possible changes directed by politicians. It is vital that prison officials remain in tune with events outside the prison that may influence the mindset and behavior of those inside. Some issues move like greased lightning within the prison environment while others may take longer.
    Within the prison staff at all levels need to both talk to, and listen to the prisoners. If staff listen there is information to be garnered. Strange but true the prisoners will tell them what is going on in the prison.
    Accountability is another issue to be resolved. Even after the fire and the rehousing of the inmates, there was still a dubious tally of prisoners. Knowing where prisoners are at all times is of prime importance. A formal call out system should be in place, supplemented by formal counts at prescribed times. Contraband items (anything that a prisoner should not possess)
    should receive top attention. There should be enforced regulations on the amount of items a prisoner can possess, or even have in his cell and the rules must be stringently enforced.
    Tensions and incidents are natural to the prison and prison personnel are trained to deal with them. Mental preparation for incidents is as equally important as physical preparation.
    It is blatantly apparent that the recent riot has provided all the answers to the questions. The facts have been borne out by the acts.
    What needs to be addressed is Quo Vadis? Would there ever be an end? Hopefully the fire will a clear message send.

    Y. Sam.

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