Mar 07, 2016 News
– Rohee blames prison authorities
By Abena Rockcliffe
Where do we go from here? That’s the question that the government is asking itself in the aftermath of the Camp Street Prison Tragedy that left 17 inmates dead and several others injured.
The young government is now faced with tough responsibility of moving on from the worst prison tragedy that the English speaking Caribbean has ever seen. Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan has set aside all pride and admitted that the government is under pressure.
In this regard, he pointed to the “chattering class” that feels it has all the solutions, one of which is the building of a new prison out of Georgetown. However, The Minister said that there is much to be considered by the government before it can charter its course ahead.
In the meantime, measures are being put in place to avoid a replay.
Ramjattan said that he has been receiving daily reports about the state of affairs in the prisons ever since Thursday’s tragedy. Also, there is the Commission of Inquiry (COI) that is set to get underway soon.
He told Kaieteur News yesterday that the three Commissioners—Justice James Patterson, Merle Mendonca and retired Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine—are to meet with President David Granger today. Also, the commissioners are still to collect their instruments of appointment, “all of that have to be worked out so I doubt the inquiry will begin tomorrow (today).”
Ramjattan said too that the COI was not something long in the making and the Commissioners may very well have personal matters that they need to attend to in getting themselves prepared.
The COI is expected to examine the causes, circumstance and condition that led to the disturbances; the nature of the injuries sustained by prisoners during the disturbance, the conduct of staff of the Guyana Prison Service who were on duty, to confirm whether the actions were in harmony with the Standard Operation Procedures of the Prison Service and determine whether the death was as a result of negligence or abandonment of duty. The Commission is also expected to make recommendations.
However, Ramjattan said that he wants to find out if previous recommendations were implemented and whether issues that would have been found to play a part in the prisoners’ reactions were addressed in those recommendations.
In July 2001, a team from Britain, the Consultancy Group of the British Government Cabinet Office Centre for Management and Policy Studies presented its Prison Reform Report to the then Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj. In another reformative face saving process, Cecil Kennard, former Chancellor of the Judiciary, again presented to Gajraj a 30 page Report of Board Of Inquiry into the February 23, 2002 escape of five prisoners from Georgetown Prison.
The Carter Centre of America also presented another report in 2002, calling for the establishment of a Criminal Law Review Committee to examine existing laws, practices and procedures for the criminal justice system, especially imprisonment. In like manner, the Guyana Prison Service also produced its own 2001-2011 Strategic Development Plan based on workshops, consultancy reports and visits.
Justice Ian Chang had also handed over to the Speaker of the National Assembly in May 2004 a 28 page recommendations Report of the Disciplined Services Commission, regarding improvements to the Georgetown, Mazaruni and New Amsterdam prisons.
Were any of these recommendations implemented?
The immediate former Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee says that the answer should be yes.
He told Kaieteur News that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration gave the go ahead for most of the recommendations to be implemented. He said that it was left up to prison authorities to ensure that that was done.
In plain terms, Rohee said that if it is found that there has been a repeat of an issue that was addressed in previous reports, the blame is to be placed solely at the feet at the Prison Authorities and in no way should the PPP be made to take the rap for this.
Ramjattan said that he hopes that the COI would highlight what of the previous recommendations were implemented. However, contrary to what Rohee said, Ramjattan noted that if there were non-implementations of the recommendations the prison authorities are not the only ones to blame.
He said this as he pointed out that some of the recommendations would have required some financial expenditure to be incurred which might not have been there.
Ramjattan said that while he really wants to know what amount has been implemented, his immediate concern is the circumstance that led to the deaths.
The Minister made no qualms to say forthrightly that the prisoners will not get all that they are demanding.
He explained that it will be difficult to meet all the demands that are being made because of the financial constraints that the government is under.
“The capital expenditure will be huge. What would the press and the public say? You would rip us apart,” said Ramjattan.
He added, “There would be much political outcry, you guys will ask if that is what you (the government) is spending all our money on?” He said that the government is in a very difficult spot. He said that the government finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
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