Kaieteur News – The problems within our local prisons cannot be solved by the Prison Service. The Prison Service has become part of the problem and therefore cannot be expected to be part of the solution.
There is rampant corruption within the Guyana Prison Service. The paraphernalia found in the prisons is an indictment against the Prison Service. Rackets are being run out of the prisons and prison officers are complicit in some of these schemes.
One of these schemes involves selling phone credit to prisoners. If you have a relative in the prison and you want to talk to them, all you have to do is to send the credit to a number which is believed to be held by a prison officer and that credit is going to be transferred to the prisoner.
On almost every raid conducted in the prison, cellular phones are seized. How were these phones smuggled into the prison and how are the prisoners, who are supposed to be manned, able to charge their phone batteries if there are no electrical outlets in their cells?
The Prison Service is being run as a supermarket for prisoners. There is nothing which a prisoner wants which he cannot have so long as he or she has the money. Videos have surfaced of prisoners imbibing expensive vodka in the prisons.
Prison officers have been caught taking narcotics and other prohibited substances into the prison. Just this month, a prison officer was accused of being in possession of marijuana, and it is believed it was for trafficking within the prisons.
Many years ago, there was a story about a prison officer at the Mazaruni Prisons who had a poultry farm and prisoners, it is said, were doing work on that farm. These sorts of allegations are often not investigated because they originate from prisoners for whom people have little respect.
At present the Prisons are unstable. There is tremendous overcrowding, particularly in remand facilities. And there are insufficient prison guards to deal with the problem.
Prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions. If there is any international inspection of our local prisons, there is going to be a recommendation for the closure of most of the prisons. In some prisons, three and four prisoners are crowded into a small space. Their cells are used not just for sleeping but for hanging their clothes. These cells are dirty and dark and ill-ventilated.
But the greatest threat is security. It is ironic that the APNU+AFC has tabled a motion in the National Assembly calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the recent shooting to death of two prisoners at Lusignan. But when in office, 18 prisoners died during an inferno at the Camp Street Prisons which was later burnt to the ground, along with the Prison Officers sports club across the road. One day, not long afterwards prisoners took command of the prisons.
It should therefore by now be clear to the Minister of Home Affairs that the Prison Service cannot be part of the solution to the problem of our prisons. In many countries, the services provided by prison guards are privatized. This should be done immediately. The management of the prisons should be privatized.
But there are reforms which are needed, including legal reforms. One suggestion which was made recently was for the use of electric ankle bracelets, called electronic aging, as part of alternative sentencing. The argument is that instead of remanding someone to prison, they could be asked to wear a bracelet which would allow them to be traced if they decided to not turn up to court.
The difficulty with this solution is that it is costly. It may be far cheaper for someone to post bail than to afford the cost of the bracelet. But it is an option in drug trafficking cases for example where trial could take months or even years while the accused has to be remanded for fear of skipping bail. It is a solution for certain types of offenses.
Ultimately, there will have to be prison reforms in order to stem the corruption within the prison system. Legislation should be passed allowing for prisoners a certain amount of phone hours every week. Persons on remand should be allowed to have their own phones since they are not convicted.
Also, prisoners should be allowed certain privileges related to drink. At least every month, each prisoner should be allowed a quota of cigarettes and alcohol. This will put some of the illegal traders out of business.
In the final analysis, however, the problem is one of numbers. If the size of the prison population becomes more manageable, the prisons will be more stable and less corrupt.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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