Apr 26, 2016 News
Yesterday, Director of Prisons, Carl Graham, told the Commission of Inquiry, (COI) into the disastrous Camp Street Prison fire that overcrowding, prison gangs and a shortage of staff are among the root causes of riots within the prisons.
Graham testified that the prison has a ratio of two prison officers to seven prisoners. He explained that together with the extreme overcrowding, inmates often form gangs and create rivalry among each other. He said some prisoners are known for forming gangs and being ring leaders.
In light of this, Graham disclosed that prison wardens are constantly separating the men in an effort to break up gangs and avert conflict. But whenever, there is an uprising, he explained that prisoners are usually transferred from one section of the jail to another as the officers work to keep the situation under control.
According to the Director, jail gangs are difficult to separate since followers are very supportive and loyal to their individual ring leaders.
These ring leaders, he explained, often have followers in the other sections of the prison as well, are very influential or would have a reputation known to others due to their lifestyle prior to the period of incarceration. The separation, he added, is also difficult because the prison accommodation is limited.
Under cross examination from the Commission’s Counsel, Excellence Dazzell, Graham told the tribunal that plans to contract a larger prison facility outside of the city were averted.
Graham explained that the plans were on the table for some time now but the Government opted to build a Marriot Hotel instead.
The Director of Prisons noted that the Marriott Hotel project got underway long after the new prison facility. However, he pointed out that the hotel is now complete while the plans to construct the new prison facility remain stalled.
Graham told the Commission that had the Government not been reluctant to build the new prison, by giving the project the attention and support it needed, the current problem of overcrowding would have been significantly alleviated.
Questioned specifically about the day when 17 inmates were burnt to death inside Capital A of the Camp Street Prison, Graham stated that it was the worst experience in his career as a Prison Officer.
He told the panel that his staff has been deeply affected by the tragedy; some are currently undergoing counseling from psychiatrist Dr. Bhiro Harry and a professional counselor.
Asked further about the difficulties that officers faced with operating the machinery to combat the fire on March 3, the Prison official said that he was not aware of all the technical difficulties that the officers faced since he was only appointed to the position of Director last October.
President David Granger had appointed Justice James Patterson, Merle Mendonca and retired Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine, as Commissioners to investigate, examine and report on the causes, circumstances and conditions that led to the disturbances on the morning of March 3, 2016, that resulted in the death of prisoners and any other subsequent disturbances at the Camp Street Prisons; the nature of all injuries sustained by the Prisoners, and any other subsequent disturbances.
The COI was established following one of the deadliest riots that took place within the prisons in recent years. According to the rules of procedure, the Commission was expected to render its report, findings and recommendations to the Minister of Public Security.
Stakeholders whose views are being considered by the Commission so far, include staff of the Prisons and their representative unions, members of the Judiciary, prisoners accommodated within the Camp Street facility, functionaries in the Ministries of Public Health and Social Protection and any other stakeholder whose input would be deemed appropriate.
The Inquiry is being conducted in the Conference Room of the Department of Public Service, Ministry of the Presidency, 164 Waterloo Street, South Cummingsburg.
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