Priority task - get escaped criminals Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 3, 2002

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AFTER last week's tragedy at the Georgetown Prison that left one prison officer dead and another still in a critical condition, the number one priority of the security forces must be the capture of the five armed and dangerous criminal elements who escaped from the prison.

The sickness of the culture of party politics in this country explains why one party that sees itself as the alternative government wants to pick a row and blame the current administration for anything that goes wrong.

Consequently, self-serving arguments are being passionately advanced why the government should take the blame for a tragedy that the PNC thinks was "waiting to happen", as if an overcrowded prison and the escape of prisoners from that penal institution were never problems when that party held power for more than two decades.

Too many citizens of this country, irrespective of race, class, religion and political affiliation, have suffered at the hands of criminals for any encouragement to be given, any talk that could embolden them, when armed and dangerous escaped prisoners remain at large.

Too many rapes, murders and armed robberies have occurred; too many innocent people have suffered by the rampaging criminals, including hard working and brave members of the security forces seeking to ensure maintenance of law and order.

The courageous prison officer, Troy Williams, who appropriately received a hero's funeral, and Roxanne Winfield, who must be given all possible assistance by the state that is required for her full recovery, are only the latest known victims of those who seem to feel that this is a lawless Republic where, at critical moments, they could still find opportunistic elements callous enough to come to their defence under the guise of human rights violations or to complain of alleged use of excessive force by lawmen.

Regional problem
Across the Caribbean region, there are reports of overcrowded prisons and of prison escapes. It is, therefore, not a serious call from those who wish to be taken seriously, for "resignations" to be offered because of last weekend's tragedy at the Georgetown Prison.

Think of the many occasions that a Minister of Home Affairs or a Prison Superintendent would have had to resign over similar, or worse tragedies in other Caribbean Community states and one can only conclude how ridiculous is such a demand.

It is, nevertheless, the case that penal reform gets more talk than action in too many of these countries - Guyana included. There is clearly a need for more focused attention on penal reform designed to both improving prison conditions and reducing prisons population by the enactment of policies for alternatives to custodial sentencing, such as community services, and rehabilitation of young and first offenders.

But for now, let there be no diversion away from the number one task at hand for the authorities - the capture of those five armed and dangerous criminals who escaped from prison and, for all we know, are even now engaged in plans with their collaborators to create more pain and suffering for law abiding citizens.

This is no time to score narrow political points. The police are faced with an enormous challenge and they need support from ALL quarters.