Prison debacle

Stabroek News
September 1 , 1999

Up to the time of the writing of this editorial, there had not been an official statement from the Guyana Prison Service or the Ministry of Home Affairs on the shocking escape of four men from the Georgetown Prisons on Sunday morning. Two full days after the event that, too, is a matter worthy of serious comment.

For the moment, let us dwell on the break out. At around 10 am on Sunday, four men scaled the prison wall as if it was a lowly yard fence. They jumped into a waiting car virtually unhindered and sped away. From there it appears that they wended their way up the east coast to a point on the sea wall where they departed terra-firma in a waiting speed boat to a destination unknown.

Once out to sea, it is hardly likely that the four would be seen in these climes again. Can anyone conceive of our lone borrowed patrol(?) boat in hot pursuit of the escapees? In local parlance, `deh gone'.

Back in Georgetown there are a number of questions to which satisfactory answers must be provided. -Were the four men in the prison yard unsupervised? If they were what explanation can there be for this laxity? One of the men was accused of an execution-style slaying and had fled the country. He successfully eluded the grasp of local law enforcement and it was only through his capture by Venezuelan authorities that he was returned to the country. Surely he should have been under close watch. If the four were being supervised how come they managed to escape with such ease?

-Was there indeed a ladder braced against the fence of the prison compound to aid the escape of the quartet? A ladder in a prison yard is like a flame in the hands of a pyromaniac.

-How do four men evade so comprehensively the various levels of security within and without prison walls?

-Did one of the escapees indeed have access to a cellular phone to help him hatch his escape plan? It is not altogether impossible. Recently in the magistrate's court a prison officer was convicted of taking a cell phone into jail ostensibly for the use of the inmates.

-Was there collusion between the escapees and prison employees? The escape was a tightly wound plot executed to perfection. It was not a spontaneous surge to freedom by the four. It points firmly in the direction of an abetment of the break out by persons within the prison system.

What must be done? Inevitably there will be the customary enquiry into the escape but whether or not that will have the desired impact is debatable. Over the last six or seven years, penitentiaries across this land have been besieged by a variety of major upheavals. These include mass break outs, gang violence, murders, riots and fires. If these events resulted in any preventative measures at all, how could four prisoners escape so smoothly from Camp Street under the gaze of what look like surveillance cameras. What about the ministerial committee that had been set up on prison conditions? What impact has it had? What of the all-party approach that Parliament had agreed would be pursued on this issue?

Whatever investigation of this breach is pursued, it must lead to delinquent and guilty officers being purged from the system and a vast change in the way prison security is administered.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples