Mar 05, 2016 News
-even as Officer in Charge accepts responsibility
By Jarryl Bryan
In the wake of the catastrophic fire that claimed the lives of 17 inmates at the Camp Street Prison on Thursday,
Deputy Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels has been sent on six weeks leave with immediate effect.
Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, made this announcement yesterday during a press conference at his Ministry. Ramjattan said that this decision was taken following concerns raised by the prisoners themselves and other considerations.
“Samuels will be on leave for the next six weeks from that environment,” he said. “(This is) for good reason as a result of the perspective of the Director of Prisons, myself and also (Minister Joseph) Harmon. We think this is a necessity at this stage.”
“This is not any indictment on Samuels,” Ramjattan said. “But during the course of this morning’s expression of views, there were a number of prisoners that indicated things about Samuels.”
“(So) for both his interest and also the interest of the prison and my discretion, I indicated that it might be advisable at this stage that Samuels (proceed on leave).”
Ramjattan also sought to link his decision with the fact that Government is pushing for senior ranks with accumulated leave days to utilise them. The Minister indicated that it was thus an opportune time for Samuels to proceed on leave.
Meanwhile, Officer in Charge of the Camp Street prison, Kevin Pilgrim, has made it clear that he would not wait on the COI into the prison deaths, which will begin on March 7, but would accept that he was responsible for the prisoners who died whilst under his charge.
“I would like to extend my sympathies to the relatives of the inmates who lost their lives at the facility for which I am in charge,” he stated. “I must say, on my behalf, that I am sorry.”
“Sorry, simply because being in a prison environment, that is not a word that you hear very often. I know saying sorry is not an excuse. A COI will do a detailed investigation, as well as the police investigations to impose any sanctions.”
“I am responsible and the laws state clearly as the Officer in Charge, you have to be responsible for everyone under your charge.”
On the arrangements for the bodies, Pilgrim said that since persons lost their lives, the Police Force would take the lead role so that once post mortems are done to determine the causes of deaths, relatives would receive the bodies.
“When those bodies are cleared for burial,” Pilgrim said. “A request will be made. If the relatives cannot handle the burial arrangements, they will have the Ministry of Social Protection, who is assisting us in that process and giving guidance to relatives throughout process.”
Asked how long it would take, the response was that they will have to wait until the Pathologist has completed his work.
Safety of residents
In consideration of the safety of residents in the area, Pilgrim sought to give assurances that the presence of joint services inside and around the prison would see to it that while repairs are effected, residents would not be disturbed.
“We have the GDF maintaining cordons, with support from the police. We have the Guyana Fire Service on standby and the police officers. The prison officers are within the prisons with a double cordon outside the prison.”
“So even though the building will not be back to top standards, we will have a presence from the joint services in and around the area. We will advise persons who are living there to inform their visitors that the area will be cordoned off and they can look out for (information) as to any change.”
However, Pilgrim did note that in the wake of the visit by Ramjattan and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, things have calmed down at the prison. It is understood that the delegation of prisoners that met the Ministers were sent back to their fellow inmates to assuage them.
This was a completely different scenario on Thursday, as prisoners and bystanders made resounding accusations that prison officials had contributed to the deaths of the men, who were trapped inside their cells.
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