Guyana Prisons: Asking once more—Who’s minding the store? – By Yvonne Sam

By Yvonne Sam

Please revert me back to the realm of reality or normalcy following the asking of the above-question.  It was recently reported that personnel of Guyana Prison Service foiled an escape plot by several inmates of the Georgetown Prison on Camp Street.  Reports state that on Friday January 3, 2020 on or around 10.45 a.m., during interaction with prisoners in the Security Block by the Acting Director of Prisons and other ranks, it was discovered that several bars of a cell had been cut and secured with a cloth.

Of ironical note is the fact that one of the architects of this  likely escape bid Stafrei Alexander, serving a life sentence for attempted murder was also one of the six inmates who had successfully escaped from the same institution in July 2017, during a jailbreak that gutted the colonial era facility.  Immediate search operation revealed that not only the bars of his cell were cut, but also that of another cell.         

I fail miserably to envision what goes on behind the walls of Guyana’s maximum security prison.  Taking into serious consideration the jail breaks, the scaling of prison walls,  the deadly fires, the firearms possession, , the cutlasses, the mattresses being set on fire etc., it is obvious that the Jail is a fail.  Convicts so bold appear to be in full control. In March 2015 Tambico Mc Kenzie an inmate of the Camp Street Prison, was chopped with a cutlass by two inmates. When the system strips a person of their freedom, it automatically incurs an obligation to ensure that prisons are safe and secure for inmates. This brings to the fore the nagging and somewhat imbecilic question regarding security within the prison, sometimes referred to as –procedural security or procedural control.  Here I revert to street parlance in order to be perhaps better understood,

“Where the hell did they get the hacksaws from? Procedural security entails how prisoners move around the environment, what possessions they are allowed to keep, how are the inmates and their visitors searched, as well as the basic daily routine. Is this being done?  How? Frequency?

Effective procedural security requires not only a clear set of regulations, but must be implemented by staff that are adequate in number, and well trained.

The recent escape bid is a damning indictment on both the Government and the country’s overall security situation.  How did the prisoners manage to set the wheel in motion without being prior detected?  How often is inmate and environment surveillance conducted and in what manner?  It is said that a cloth was used to secure the bars that had been cut. Luckily, the cloth was used to cover the evidence, but under similar circumstances could have been the accessory to an inmate’s demise viz: suicide. Prison officials are responsible for the security measures that the physical design cannot control. And while it may be hard on the ear, have no fear, but all people (staff included) who move into and out of the prison should be considered possible avenues of contraband movement.

Viewed through phenomenological lens could this latest flight attempt be seen as a call for architectural reform and increased detection technology? In summary, the use of technology in prison has a direct impact on the custody and prevention of prisoner escape.

It is blatantly obvious that a second and hopefully final look is necessary at the Camp Street Prison to ensure that it fulfills its duty—keeping society out and its inmates in. One would have thought that the government having learnt from the fire would have raised the standards higher. The incident clearly showed the need to bypass the norm and immediately effect widespread reform.   According to Antoinette Chauvenet, the French writer on prison and reform, “the prison is a defensive warlike apparatus. However, this apparatus of war is not being built at the boundaries for the purpose of defense against an external enemy. Instead she posits the prison is woven into the sociopolitical and spatial fabric targeting the internal enemy enclosed within walls that he should not leave as long as the law has not decided otherwise. Organizations typically claim to control people as a means to an end.  Controlling students in a school is supposed to serve their education. The being of a prison is to prevent people from getting out.

Given the chequered history of Camp Street Prison it is evident that the moment of decision has been reached, where by and large the prison personnel must now take charge. And when the new plans begin to take shape, it would be difficult  or even  impossible for prisoners to escape.

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  • BridgIt A Sam-Bailey  On January 11, 2020 at 3:50 am

    Here we are again, but not only should we ask where the hacksaws came from, but certainly the action is noisy, so how or why did no Warders hear the noise and investigate it?

  • Francis Quamina Farrier  On January 16, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Citizens need to hear two things about the “Lot 12 Georgetown Prison”. 1: It will be CLOSED DOWN permanently. 2: Any Officer found guilty of aiding and abetting illegal acts favourable to an inmate, will be jailed for THIRTY YEARS. I have visited Lot 12, Mazaruni and New Amsterdam Prisons many times over the past Forty Years in my capacity as a Journalist, and have ALWAYS abided by the established RULES for visiting journalists.On my most recent visit to the Mazaruni Prison, (2018) I have to say that I was very impressed with the Agriculture projects.

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