Human rights' body criticism of jailbreak inquiry report unfair - Kennard
June 23, 2002
Chairman of the Board of Inquiry into the Mash Day jailbreak, Cecil Kennard, described as unfair, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) criticism of the report on the circumstances surrounding the escape.
Kennard, former chancellor of the judiciary, told Stabroek News in an interview yesterday that if the GHRA were apprised of all the facts it would not have issued such a rash statement. The GHRA statement issued last week accused Kennard of a conflict of interest. It claimed that he was the head of the judiciary when the overcrowding at the Camp Street prisons reached its zenith. The statement says, "the report barely acknowledges the defining factor in prison life, namely the issue of overcrowding. Just as on a ship, minibus or classroom, overcrowding places an intolerable strain on all systems. However, unlike those in charge of ships, minibuses or class rooms the GPS [Guyana Prison Service] has no control over the numbers sent to prison, a fact which puts the judiciary, rather than the prison service, in the spotlight."
Defending his actions to ease overcrowding during his tenure as chancellor, Kennard said it was true that he paid only one visit to the prison, but he was very aware of the problem of overcrowding and took a number of initiatives to deal with the matter.
Among these, he said, were the construction of magistrates' courts at Vreed-en-Hoop, Whim and Suddie as well as extending the Georgetown Magistrates Court to accommodate two more courts; arrange for accommodation of a court in the Parika Marketing Centre; as well as for the court at Fort Wellington to be accommodated in the boardroom of the Regional Administration building for Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice). He said he arranged for a court to be convened at Kwakwani so as to avoid prisoners from that area being brought to New Amsterdam. He said too that he also ensured that funds were available for the magistrates to travel to the interior to try cases there quarterly.
More importantly, he said, after a meeting with the then director of public prosecutions (ag) Ian Chang, then chief magistrate Paul Fung-A-Fat and Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine, decisions were taken to speed up the disposal of cases of persons on remand.
Among these he said was that Chang would bring up for trial in the High Court those persons on remand on indictable charges. Fung-A-Fat was charged with ensuring that the other magistrates gave priority to those cases involving prisoners on remand. He said that he reiterated the instructions at the monthly meetings he held with the magistrates.
Commenting on another issue in the GHRA statement with regard to assigning blame, Kennard said that the mandate given the committee was limited to the circumstances surrounding the report, the culpability of person or persons involved and making recommendations as to the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against those found culpable. He said that as chancellor he had had excellent relations with the senior officers of the prison service and had no interest in casting blame on them without any evidence.
Kennard recounted the lapses by the senior officers including the failure to post an armed sentry at the gate once the Director of Prisons had alerted them about the need to be on "special alert"; the failure by the senior officers to have Dale Moore, a high profile prisoner escorted to his cell block; the failure to take action when Shawn Brown, another high profile prisoner, was seen in an area where he should not have been; and the posting of just one guard in the operations room where she was required to observe at least 15 television monitors. These, Kennard said, were lapses on which the committee could not but comment.
Kennard explained too, with regard to another aspect of the GHRA statement, that the consternation that a third of the prisoners at the Camp Street jail were high-profile prisoners was due to its recognition that the label was being applied "willy-nilly". He said the committee recommended that the definition of high profile as applied to the prisons be revised.
Kennard said too that the committee had recommended that the Camp Street prison should be used to house remand prisoners and those sentenced to short terms. He explained too that the committee did not consider the question of the remand prisoners, as it was aware that Senior Counsel Rex McKay was heading a committee that was looking at this issue as part of its mandate from Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard.