Home affairs ministry, prison service reiterate that 95% of recommendations of 1999 board of inquiry implented
Willems disputes this
Stabroek News
March 17, 2002

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The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Guyana Prison Service have said that 95% of the recommendations made by the Board of Inquiry headed by businessman Peter Willems in 1999 had been implemented.

The Prison Service confirmed, however, Willems' claims that certain critical recommendations had not in fact been implemented, saying this would have opened them to criticism and possible lawsuits by the public.

"The Prison Service also speculated about the human rights body taking them to task for having skilled marksmen from the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force manning the guard towers at the Camp Street Jail to shoot anyone who trespasses the no go zone area," a release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) said last week.

But Willems, asked to comment further on the ministry and GPS' insistence that 95% of the recommendations had been implemented said this was not the case.

"I stand by my estimate that not even close to 95% based on a quantitative weighing of the critical recommendations were implemented against the weighting of the less critical but easy to implement recommendations put in place," Willems said.

He further stated that the fear expressed by the GPS concerning possible lawsuits, was not a legal opinion or else every policeman, armed and firing a weapon, would be liable to a lawsuit.

Willems insisted that suitable legal arrangements could have been made to have the guard towers manned by marksmen from the GPF or GDF. He further noted that the GPS had admitted that critical recommendations had not been implemented.

The release from GINA was accompanied by a schedule of 40 recommendations made by the Board of Inquiry and next to these was listed the action taken on them.

But Willems said erecting one of the two guard towers - one of the most vital of the recommendations - and not putting in armed marksmen from the GDF or GPF but having them empty or posting sleeping guards inside was tantamount to not acting on that recommendation.

The GINA statement said that a no go zone had been established and demarcated by a chain link fence and barbed wire, but Willems dubbed this very pretty but not what was required. He was adamant that it was not good enough without putting in place the sanctions necessary for venturing into the zone.

The statement said that the radio log had been established but Willems observed that the recommendation had called for two guard towers and for there to be a radio log or written confirmation between guard towers and the control tower.

The GINA statement confirmed that the recommendation to subject those who had entered the no go zone after being warned, to severe sanctions by the marksmen in the guard towers had not been implemented. Willems was of the view that this was a vital recommendation and said that no one would have been shot on sight as was being suggested but a warning shot fired and time given for trespasser(s) to surrender.

The statement said that the installation and testing of floodlights on the perimeter fence had been completed as suggested, but Willems queried whether they were checked on twice per week.

As to the camera system on the perimeter fence, Willems said this ought to be checked on a daily basis by a senior monitoring officer to ensure no system or guard failure. Putting in place the system, Willems said, was just the start. He asked whether the cameras on the fence had recorded the prisoner attacks on both gates in the recent jailbreak and asked whether it was being monitored at the time of the incident.

He noted that supplying sufficient riot helmets, and shields, tear gas canisters and respirators which were vital had also not been done.

On the recommendation that there should be training and retraining of all officers including in the use of batons and self defence, the GINA statement said that a specialist in martial arts had been contracted to train the recruits and that no trainer had been available from the GDF or GPF. Willems questioned when this specialist had been contracted and pointed out that the army had Special Forces trained in hand to hand combat.

As to the catch net to be installed to catch objects being thrown over the wall from outside of the prison, Willems said this had been installed but not monitored and this was vital.

He also considered that it was vital for the GDF to be given the legal mandate to work with the GPF and GPS to ensure that the perimeter fence and the guard towers were manned efficiently. The statement said that no such legal mandate had been given.

The statement said that except for special watch prisoners, remand prisoners were not denied the right to wear their own clothing and only convicted prisoners were identified by special clothing. But Willems insisted that te identification of prisoners could be enforced in accordance with prison requirements, and questioned where all the dangerous escapees had been kept. Was it in remand or in a separate location under special watch?

In the case of giving civilian visitors tags and giving prison officials the right to challenge visitors, the statement said that this had not been implemented, but that civilians were escorted and monitored while in prison. Their visits were logged and recorded.

However, Willems queried the escorts/visitors' ratio. He also questioned how visits were logged and recorded and asked whether identification cards or positive identification were required.

As to the GPS claim that the self support system was under constant review, Willems said that this was to have been changed since 1999 to prevent the smuggling in of food and items, and communication with outside sources.

As to the complete overhaul of the practical implementation of the Prison System Statutory Orders, the GINA statement said that proposals were being prepared to amend the Prison Act and Status. But Willems wanted to know when this would happen, since 27 months had passed since the recommendations had been made.

On the recommendation to revise the ratio of prison officers to prisoners and male to female officers, the GPS said that the former was not determined by the prison administration and the latter was changing gradually as larger numbers of males were recruited with each successive intake. Willems, however, asked who was responsible for the ratio of guards to prisoners if not the GPS. He considered that the service needed a minimum of 50% more male officers over November 1999, and expressed the view that the ratio of male to female officers was changing far too slowly.

There was no answer on the disciplinary action against officers as had been recommended by the Board of Inquiry and Willems said this was a critical issue.

The Board had also said that a shortage of staff and overcrowding would contribute to jailbreaks if not dealt with swiftly and suggested that careful evaluation be done of the Mazaruni Prison to see if more prisoners could be transferred from Georgetown to Mazaruni.

The statement said that prisoners had been transferred to Mazaruni from Georgetown in numbers which were within the capacity of the prison to contain and control. However, it said approval to employ additional staff must first be given.

The statement also said that the Ministry of Home Affairs had made increased budgetary allocations for the Georgetown Prison but Willems wanted to know by how much and in which areas. He also wanted to know if these areas had been critical.

Another recommendation had been for the joint service coordinating committee to be requested to review the training programme of the GPS in order to provide assistance to upgrade the training of officers at all levels. The GINA statement said this had been done as well as weapons training and good drills by the GDF and GPF. But Willems asked how many guards had been on the course since 1999 or if this was the GDF cadet officers' course for three or four guards who hoped to become cadet officers?

The GPS admitted that a critical recommendation not to deploy prison officers on duty without the relevant basic training had not been fully implemented. The GINA statement said that the small rate of intake influenced the time when a batch of recruits would be trained, and on the job training was undertaken in the meantime. Willems, however, said this had been discussed and decided and asked how one could train under trained guards while they were fully occupied guarding. "This is a basic excuse for under training," he said.

The statement went on to say that the immediate action drill work-out between Col Atherly (now Major General) and the Director of Prisons had been tested. Willems wanted to know if it had worked in the past 27 months?

Furthermore, according to the statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs had arranged for four pump action shotguns to be acquired as had been recommended. Willems said that this was good, but asked why they had not been used in the towers with number six or number four shot (short range) instead of rifles. He also wanted to know why the front gate tower in the north west corner had not been built to cover the front gate in case of an emergency as had been discussed.

"It was clearly understood by the Director of Prisons that the strengthening of the perimeter fence would prevent prisoners from going over and that left the two gates for them to try and escape. So said and with no further front gate security improvements taken, the escapees went through the front gate," Willems reiterated.

The GINA statement also said that the recommendation for the joint service coordinating committee to immediately design a plan to evacuate prisoners in a controlled and orderly manner to a safe place in the case of fire or other natural disaster had not been completed.

Willems said this was a major default which had been pending for over 10 years. He wondered whether officials always had to react to disasters of their own creation instead of preventing them from happening. He said that the Board had suggested trial on the ground to test evacuation skills in the case of emergencies, but not even a plan was in force. He said that the board had suggested 1000 plastic restraints be available in the prison to secure prisons in a worst case scenario, but this too had still not been done.

Willems still maintained that the Ministry had looked at all of the easier recommendations but the ones critical to the security of the prison had not been implemented.