Mar 14, 2016 News
– blames lack of political will for failure to implement past recommendations
The prison and the judiciary are the two stepsisters who are starved when funds become scarce. They do not bring in votes at election time so they receive no political priority.
Any further investigation into prison conditions by the Commission of Inquiry that was recently formed after 17 inmates were burnt to death at the Camp Street Prison will be a useless exercise.
This is the view of former People Progressive Party (PPP) stalwart and Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran, who said that the problem of overcrowding at the facility was well known.
Ramkarran made this commentary in his most recent column published on his website, conversationtree.gy.
He explained that there are approximately 2,000 prisoners in the five facilities in Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Mazaruni, Lusignan and Timehri. The Georgetown Prison at Camp Street was designed to accommodate 600 prisoners but holds almost 1,000.
“There was always a great fear among those responsible for security that Camp Street (prison) could explode at any time,” the veteran politician wrote.
There were a number of studies by various organizations into the prison conditions.
In 2001, a comprehensive report by a British team on prison reform was made. It found overcrowding, violations of human rights, inadequate alternatives to incarceration, poor conditions for prisoners and staff and minimal scope for rehabilitation.
Also in 2001, the Guyana Prison Service produced a ten-year Strategic Development Plan for 2001-2011 after reports, workshops, retreats and visits.
In 2002, the Carter Center presented a report calling for a review of the criminal justice system including the system of imprisonment.
Also in 2002, the Kennard Commission of Inquiry into the February 2002 jailbreak concluded that it would not have occurred if the prisoners had been transferred to Mazaruni.
In 2004, the Report of the Disciplined Services Commission chaired by Justice Ian Chang made 28 recommendations for improvements to the prisons, increased staff, increasing the capacity of Mazaruni to deal with dangerous prisoners and others.
In 2009, a 68-page report made by a team led by Lloyd Nickram, a Management Specialist in the Public Service Ministry, made much the same recommendations as the previous reports and identified the main cause of chronic overcrowding as the large number of remands and imprisonment for petty crimes.
The Georgetown Prison Visiting Committee reports every year to the Minister repeating the same litany of overcrowding and other problems.
“Having regard to all the studies and reports outlined above, any further investigation into prison conditions by the Inquiry headed by Justice Patterson, except the proximate causes for the recent events, will be a useless exercise,” Ramkarran said.
He explained that the problems at the prison have already been clearly and repeatedly defined.
“Lack of political will and political energy are responsible for the failure to implement the recommendations. The Inquiry would do well to gather the reports, combine the recommendations and list them in order of priority, separating the short-term tasks from the long-term,” the former speaker suggested.
According to Ramkarran, the short-term tasks that can bring immediate relief are the substantial reduction of prisoners by modern, non-custodial, sentencing laws and policies for minor offences, a more creative policy with regard to bail and an annual review by the Director of Public Prosecutions of every case of a prisoner awaiting trial for more than two years.
He further stressed that it may be found that some cases cannot proceed because witnesses are not available or for other reasons.
“The Inquiry would also do well to consider recommending the appointment of a permanent, multi-agency task force on prison reform to drive the process of reform without which it will once again languish in bureaucratic inertia.
The most important factor, however, is political will and governmental parsimony. At the best of times the prison and the judiciary are the two stepsisters who are starved when funds become scarce. They do not bring in votes at election time so they receive no political priority,” he explained.
He said too that the judiciary should take a bold stand. Ramkarran recommends that a Board of Visiting Justices, comprising members of the judiciary to be appointed by the minister. “Visiting justices have a right to inquire into the food, diet, clothing, treatment and conduct of prisoners. Abuses and irregularities are required to be investigated. It is wrong for the magistracy and judiciary to violate the human rights of citizens by sending them into inhuman conditions in prisons, and they should so declare. If this happens, the rapid pace of reform would surprise everyone,” he concluded.
Following the prison unrest, PPP General Secretary and former Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee insisted that Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan is to be blamed for the deadly prison riot and as such called for his dismissal or resignation.
Rohee said that his Government never presided over a riot of such magnitude as the one that took place on March 03, last.
However, it was while the PPP administration was in power that the several recommendations were made but nothing was done.
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