We can learn from prison experience abroad
Stabroek News
March 23, 2002

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Dear Editor,

On April 1,1990 HMP Strangeways was the site of perhaps one of the worst pri-son riots in modern UK his-tory. It lasted twenty-five days and was the start of a string of five 'sympathetic' riots at other prisons. Strangeways was at the time populated by 1647 prisoners who occupied space designed for 970. They were forced (three per cell) to exist in cells with no internal sanitation for 23 hours per day and, if they were lucky, managed to get one shower per week and clean clothes. Does this situation sound familiar thus far? Well here is the result of the riot: sexual assaults on some prisoners, massive burning and destruction of the infrastructure, and the deaths of one prisoner and one prison officer.Today, Strangeways (now Manchester Prison) is an entirely different place, due in no small part to the implementation of several recommendations for reform made by Lord Justice Woolf, in his February 1991 report. Now adorned Lord Chief Justice Woolf, the Guardian News-paper reported (Tuesday January 30, 2001): "Lord Woolf, the lord chief justice, is expected this week to call on the government to end prison overcrowding, arguing that it is time the jail population was reduced to "an unavoidable minimum". This week sees the 10th anniversary of the publication of Lord Woolf's report into prison conditions in the wake of the Strangeways riot and he is expected to use the annual Prison Reform Trust lecture on Wednesday to argue that its reform agenda is as relevant today as it was a decade ago. The prison population stood at only 45,600 when Lord Woolf first called for prison numbers to be reduced to the "unavoidable minimum" but it now stands at more than 62,000 and is projected to rise to 70,800 in the next two years....'.In the eleventh issue of the magazine 'Corporate Watch' (dated Summer 2000) they reported on 'Prison Priva-tization': 'The current prison system in the UK is imported from America, one of the few countries with a higher proportion of its population behind bars than the UK. Many of the same companies are involved. These companies are paid per inmate per day so the more people are locked up, the more money they make. Private prisons hold people for longer than state prisons, fund right-wing 'law and order politicians and lobby the Government for harsher sentences'.

The report goes on to identify the following companies as beneficiaries of the UK government's Private Finance Initiative (PFI): Wackenhut Plc (provides security for American Embassies and almost all the US Govern-ment's most strategic facilities including the Alaskan oil pipeline, Hanford Nuclear Waste Facility, the Savannah River Plutonium mine and Nevada nuclear test sites and with whom the local GEB has been associated) Group (the largest security company in the world that provides security from building sites to the Pentagon to NATO HQ); Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) - they specialize in prisons; Securicor (they are a minor player but a player nonetheless and have a local presence in Guyana).Some may wonder, why the lesson in history? Well, the answer is simple, those who ignore the lessons of the past are bound to repeat them. Moreover, I make the point that Guyana's prison problems are not unique and the information is out there for those who would genuinely want to learn and profit from their remedies. The crime situation is not too dissimilar either, and it is foolhardy to have the efforts at democratization thwarted by problems that have already been solved over and over again elsewhere. The alternative is a slide into the symptoms of anarchy that are now seeping into Guyanese society. I am beginning to wonder if anyone that matters cares.

Yours faithfully,

Merrill Hyman Sr.