Specific recommendations for adoption By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
June 13, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Mash Day Jailbreak
Letters Menu Archival Menu

THE Ministry of Home Affairs is moving expeditiously to implement some of the specific recommendations made in the report on the Mash Day jailbreak. The report was submitted last week by the Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed after five armed inmates escaped from the Georgetown Prison killing one officer and critically wounding another.

“The findings and recommendations in the report are being studied by the intelligence committee and the specific recommendations dealing with the joint services and the security aspects of the Georgetown Prison are being specifically addressed,” Luncheon told his regular post-Cabinet news conference yesterday at the Office of the President.

Home Affairs Minister Mr. Ronald Gajraj has “made arrangements to have several of the recommendations implemented so as to enhance the security of the Camp Street Prison”, Luncheon told reporters.

“It is quite clear from the findings of the inquiry that all is not well at the (Georgetown) Prison and it is equally clear that at its core is the issue of overcrowding and the sloth in the criminal justice system; at its core these two problems resided,” Luncheon stressed.

According to him, that situation has been recognised by the administration and it is being addressed at a number of different levels. Reforms in the Magistracy is one measure being pursued very aggressively, Luncheon said, adding that the strengthening of the Supreme Court Registry and Legislative Reform are other measures being pursued by the Government.

“The anticipation, of course, is that these measures in conjunction with the ones that deal specifically with the location, the training and the terms and conditions of the prison officers will eventually be improved and dealt with to make the Georgetown Prison a much more secure entity in the Guyana Prison Service, Luncheon asserted.

He said the measures the Ministry of Home Affairs addressed in the very early stages in dealing with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry were: those have dealt with human resources issues where “some extremely serious allegations have been made about `post-holders’ in the prison service; those who were on duty on the day of the prison escape (and) those who had specific responsibilities.”

“Also, allegations have been made about supervision and about the nature of the work, the competence of various individuals assigned responsibilities consistent with their posting and their job description,” he told reporters.

According to Luncheon, these are areas that obviously are long-standing and these are the areas that the Ministry of Home Affairs has started to exert the greatest possible influence on correcting.

Hinting on the recommendations that will be acted upon immediately, Luncheon said: “Those that have been targeting the human resources aspects, the staffing, the training and greater measures to improve supervision, those can be and are being addressed by different interventions being made by the Ministry of Home Affairs.”

“I want to believe also that physical security, provisions of weaponry, prison officers trained and well informed about the use of such weaponry are also matters that are currently being addressed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The actual situation has at its core overcrowding, which is directly related to the sloth in the criminal justice system. And those recommendations that point towards intervention in those areas, I am certain that they will call for more serious, fairly well thought-out strategies…”

The Commission of Inquiry has concluded in its 33-page report that most of the members of the Prison Service, if not all, who were on duty that day “were in some way or the other negligent in the performance of their duties”.

The Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Chancellor of the Judiciary and current Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, Mr. Cecil Kennard has offered a number of recommendations in its report, including disciplinary actions, and even relieving from duty some senior officials in the Prison Service.

Asked at a news conference at State House, Georgetown last week to comment on the report, President Jagdeo noted that “there were some very disturbing revelations” in the document.

“I think it’s atrocious and we have to examine this. I would put this on the Defence Board’s agenda so that appropriate action would be taken. I want to assure you that appropriate action will be taken,” President Jagdeo said.

The Commission recommended among other things that the Officer-in-Charge at the Georgetown Prison, Colin Howard should be relieved of his responsibility, as he is unsuitable for the position.

“He should be held culpable for mal-administration since the answers he gave us revealed flaws in his management technique. It is clear that he displayed weak leadership, which resulted in a breakdown of discipline in the prison. He was far from being truthful with us and one gets the impression that he did so in order to cover up his deficiencies,” the Commission said in one of its 41 recommendations.

The five escaped prisoners are still at large and they have been linked to a series of high profile robberies, kidnapping, car jacking, murders and internal terrorism.

Luncheon yesterday noted: “With regard to overcrowding at the prison, a decision has already been taken (and) I think most importantly, the Chief Justice and his core of Magistrates have been sensitised about the need to deal expeditiously with court hearings, to cut down on the volume of remand prisoners at the Georgetown Prisons and to expedite hearings to provide faster completion of the criminal matters so as to make the prison population more reflective of convicted prisoners than it is right now.”

He pointed out that there are a large number of remand prisoners at the Georgetown Prison right now, and that some of their cases have not been heard for almost a year.

“I think that is one of the most promising interventions to deal with the number of remand prisoners and the distribution of the prison population among the other prisons in Guyana based, of course, on the appropriate criteria to pre-select categories of prisoners to be accommodated at the various other prisons (here),” he added.