City councillor opposes prison labour for $3.5M drainage work

Stabroek News
June 13, 2001

People's National Congress REFORM (PNC/R) councillor, Patricia Woolford is strongly opposed to the proposal from the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) to use prison labour for a $3.5 million contract for drainage in the city.

At Monday's statutory meeting it was proposed by the City Engineer's Department that the labour of prisoners be used to clean canals and drains in the city. Those areas included Bourda Street to New Garden Street and the Lamaha Canal.

At the meeting, Woolford said that she would not feel comfortable with the labour of prisoners being used in the heart of the city.

Mayor Hamilton Green, after listening to Woolford's complaints said that Town Clerk, Beulah Williams should take her concerns into consideration when working out the final modalities.

Councillors Desmond Moses and Patricia Chase-Green, of the PNC/R and the Guyana Good & Green (GGG) respectively, both pointed out that the prison is a place for rehabilitation and the use of prison labour is a form of this.

They were fully supported by the other councillors present.

It was pointed out that the prison authorities do not just pick any prisoner to work outside of the jail but are selective.

It was felt that some of the prisoners by earning their own money while imprisoned would become more responsible and this might very well turn them around.

Chase-Green noted that prison labour was used previously in the East La Penitence area and argued that if could be used there it could be used in the heart of the city.

According to Woolford, when prisoners are used to do work they usually "eye up" buildings and later return to rob persons.

This remark was greeted with scorn by the other councillors who found it quite outrageous.

Mayor Green told the meeting that the prisoners should not be treated as ordinary citizens as they are not legally ordinary citizens. "I support councillor Woolford's point," he said.

Councillor Moses noted that "we are suppose to be our brother's keeper and if they are in there to be rehabilitated then we should give them a chance."

The City Engineer's Department in a statement following the argument contended that the involvement of prisoners in the drainage work and other tasks of the council is not a new idea as it has been implemented from time to time over the years.

The experience has been that the work was done always to the city's satisfaction, the statement said.

It added that this time it was proposed that a more businesslike approach be taken and as such the work was to be offered by contract. It was thought, the statement said, that the prisoners would do the job cheaper. (Samantha Alleyne)