– continuous political support needed for improvement of prison system
“Major challenge, is not only identifying the steps that should be taken to avoid repetition of the tragic events… but also to recommend how to ensure that political support for implementation of recommendations does not wane when the issue disappears from the front page of newspapers.”
Members of the Commission that investigated the March 3 prison tragedy say that continuous political support is needed for implementation of recommendations made towards the improvements of the prisons.
The report on the COI spearheaded by retired Judge James Patterson noted over the past two decades, a virtually continuous stream of reports has emerged from inquiries, Commissions, Committees and expert consultants, all making remarkable recommendations for the upgrade of the prisons.
However, the document said that a major challenge is not only identifying the steps that should be taken to avoid repetition of the tragic events in the Georgetown Prison, but also to recommend how to ensure that political support for implementation of recommendations does not wane when the issue disappears from the front pages of newspapers.
The report highlighted some of the main issues affecting the success of the penal facility such as overcrowding and relapse into criminal behaviour after serving time.
According to information recidivism has apparently increased by over 100 percent, indicating not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but also the need for a more comprehensive and structured partnership within the wider justice system.
But the overriding theme emerging at all stages of the inquiry is the pervasive manner in which overcrowding in prison undermines all facets of prison life.
The submission to the COI of the Officer-in-Charge of Camp Street prison contained statistical information on overcrowding as measured by International Construction Standards (ICS) for security areas in prisons.
According to which, the Camp Street prison, given that the ‘brick’ prison is under construction and the two landings of the ‘woods’ prison are out of order, ought to house a maximum of 531 prisoners.
“But as at 2016/02/29, the Georgetown Prison housed 979 inmates, which is estimated to be 448/ 84% over the maximum accommodation capacity.”
But when the prison population is distributed over the 21 separate divisions that house prisoners, the reality of overcrowding is more readily appreciated.
“Of the 979 detainees, 55 are living in dormitories five times smaller than the recommended ICS prescribed for that number; 61 are living in areas four times smaller than the respective ICS; 123 are living in areas three times smaller than the recommended standard; 311 are living in spaces two and a half times smaller than the recommended areas and 205 are living in areas half the recommended size.
In over-all terms, only 79 of the 979 inmates live in areas that meet international standards with respect to space. Almost half of inmates (47%) are living in enclosed spaces with three times as many people as is recommended for minimum standards of physical and mental health, to say nothing of human dignity.”
In addition to the above calculations, which refer only to the physical dimensions of the confined spaces, considerations of air, light, absence of regular running water and inadequate waste disposal facilities need to be taken into account. Food quality deteriorates as the prison budget stretches to cover more meals than originally calculated; personal hygiene of prisoners deteriorates.
“As the problem gets worse, inmates spend more and more time locked down in these harsh conditions, unable to move to work stations, recreational facilities, educational classes and other activities because such activities are sacrificed to the need of overworked prison officers to complete the basic tasks of supervising meals and ablution schedules.”
The combination of overcrowded, uncomfortable and unhygienic confinement is ideal conditions for epidemics, for gangs to prosper and to propagate discontent.
For this reason, despite the array of ancillary issues to be addressed the recommendations of the Commission’s report focus on the problem of overcrowding and its perverse effects throughout the prison system.
As the report said that pertinent agencies including executive and judicial arms of the State should focus on reducing numbers in prison to manageable levels is the single most important priority for establishing safe, humane and purposeful prisons.
The report noted that the State spends an estimated G$334,617. per prisoner each year, that is G$920. per day on each prisoner, according to the Strategic Plan 2010-2015.
The statistics indicated that per capita cost for each prisoner to the State is more.
The figure is arrived at by dividing the total Operating Cost (including overheads) by the total Prisoner Population for the relevant year.
“This figure should only be regarded as indicative since facilities as well as basic prisoners’ needs are not adequately met.
“A more inclusive and up-to-date calculation (based on government calculation including costs of transporting prisoners) submitted to the COI in a written submission by prisoners provided a figure of G$485,000. per prisoner per year or G$1,329.”
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