Disciplined Forces Commission hearings
Former prisoner wants Prison Director’s office in jail compound
August 31, 2003
A FORMER prisoner is of the opinion that the Director of Prisons (DP) cannot effectively run the Camp Street Prison while stationed on Brickdam and has recommended that the DP’s office be housed in the Prison compound.
Taijpaul Gainda made the recommendation Thursday when he appeared before the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC). He was among several individuals and groups representing a broad section of society who made submissions before the Commission last week.
While some focused on private issues, the majority placed emphasis on the Guyana Police Force. Several of the complaints - extra judicial killings, police brutality and noise nuisances - were not new.
Gainda who presented a detailed report based on personal experiences and observances, said: “It is my firm opinion, that the Director of Prisons cannot run the Camp Street Prison from his office in Brickdam” since he seemed unaware of the many short comings in the system. Gainda felt that this was a main issue that needed to be addressed.
He said if the Director is based at the Prison, it would make a difference to the 900 inmates, many of whom are from broken homes. He described the Prison Director as a “powerful man” and “a powerful leader” and described his presence as one that commands respect.
Commenting on the many issues that were of concern to him he said that an individual with a simple larceny charge should not be allowed to interact with hard core criminals, a situation he said currently exists at the city jail. He also spoke of cases of sexual assault.
The issue of food was also of major concern to the former inmate. He said the fare offered is not fit for human consumption, but hastened to point out that good supplies enter the prison for the preparation of meals.
He is of the opinion that the tasteless food is offered prisoners as a form of punishment. He said that the officers cleave the meat off of the bones, take it away and cook the bones in the food for the inmates. However, he told the tribunal that daily transactions which take place under the noses of officers ensure that special lunches of exceptional quality are available for $40 or $60 if anyone so desires. The proceeds from the sale are distributed among the officers in the kitchen, he charged.
As a result of the poor quality of the food, there is massive dumping of food, Gainda reported.
Commenting on cash flow in the prison, Gainda said that prisoners in possession of money are in grave danger. He recounted how a prisoner was executed for $10.
He explained that the system in place allows relatives of inmates to leave money with the administration and the inmates make purchases from the tuck shop. The money is deducted accordingly.
However, he noted that many prisoners are known to have cash in their possession. One inmate, he said had $100 000, and was running a successful business within the confines of the prison.
This inmate, Gainda said, is always well dressed, sends out cash for his family, and even lends to prison officers.
Gainda spoke of parcels being thrown over the fence. He related how a package hooked on the fence was eventually taken down by an officer and given over to an inmate. That inmate, an orderly, was serving an eight-year sentence.
Gainda listed drugs, cigarettes and cigarette lighters, among illegal items which are found in the prison. The items are either retailed or sold wholesale. He recalled that pepper sauce was available and peddled openly in the prison. He also recalled that one prisoner and his friends were intoxicated during a birthday celebration in the jail.
Another area of concern to the former inmate was the fact that some cells have double walls. Those cells are used to hide the many illegal items peddled in the prison. During his time there, he observed at least two cells at number three landing that were so modified.
The former prisoner also contended that officers are used as mules to ferry cash behind the walls of the prison and receive a percentage for this service.
He spoke of overhearing conversations between the inmates in cells along the Durban Street end, and their relatives on the road. Listening to the conversation he was able to deduce that money is dropped off at certain points around the prison and the officers then pick it up.
He told the tribunal that detergent and salt are scarce in the prison.
Under cross examination, Gainda told the tribunal that churches and religious organisations frequent the prisons, but no counselling is provided by the prison authorities.
Questioned on the job performance, education, skills and training of the prison officers, Gainda rated them as middle level.
He also stated that the ratio of prisoners to inmates is inadequate and was unable to offer any substantial comment on the issue of prisoners on the roof, since it never occurred during his time in prison.
A day after Gainda appeared before the Commission, President of the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) Mr. Robert Bourne made his presentation on the reformation of the Guyana Police Force.
Relating to the March 1st 2003 incident where UG architectural Student, Yohance Douglas was killed by Police officers, Bourne said that it is of great concern and frightening to the University community to discover that there were more cases of that nature.
During his presentation he made reference to the “blue wall of silence” and a “network” extending outside of the force that offers protection for policemen involved in extra judicial killings.
Bourne further related that a press release was issued shortly after the Douglas killing stating that there was a confrontation, an account which was denied by eye witnesses.
His report stated that more than 150 people have been killed by the Black Clothes Squad over a ten-year period. He quoted the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001, which stated that, “Public investigations rarely are conducted into such killings; in general, police abuses are committed with impunity”.
The UGSS recommendations were that:
1) the Police Complaints Authority be reconstituted into an independent body.
2) the Commissioner of Police (ag) be immediately removed from office and that Assistant Commissioner Winston Felix whose appointment has already received the blessings of the international Community notably the United Kingdom replace him.
3) there be immediate disbandment of the infamous Black Clothes, Fountain Base and other units of that ilk, and that they be replaced by a professional, well-equipped squad.
4) there be an international investigation involving the United Nations into extra-judicial killings, summary executions and Police brutality in Guyana.
5) the office of the DPP be buttressed by High Powered Lawyers capable of adequately representing the interests of the state.
6) greater emphasis be placed on the gathering , handling and dissemination of intelligence.
Bourne added that these recommendations are made in an effort to make Guyana a country where all the citizens can feel safe and protected and not fear policemen.
Mr. Bernard DeSantos, the police legal representative, noted the statement on how many persons were killed by police and asked if the presenter was in a position to state how many were riotous or near riotous.
He replied in the negative, but added that a riotous or near riotous situation “still does not justify the amount.
Justice of Appeal Ian Chang who chairs the proceedings, pointed out that the recommendation for a special squad means that they will deal with dangerous criminals and hence that squad will have more killings than the regular force, an issue Bourne partially objected to stating that it depends on the purpose of the squad.
Earlier in the week, The Justice for Jermaine Committee recommended that the police go into Albouystown community and meet with the residents to dispel the belief that the police do not like residents because of the community.
Pensioner Victor Klobert, in his submission before the Commission stated that the breakdown in the Police Force was as a result of the cultural lawlessness that has gripped the country since Independence.
The 74-year-old suggested a continuous assessment of the performance of police ranks and based on the evaluations, which will be considered by a Promotion Board made up of members of the force, they can be qualified for future promotions.
Failed evaluations will result in dismissal from the service. He advocated better training for ranks and proper equipment, and expressed concern about suggestions of ethnicity as a criterion for entering the Force. He is adamant that the balancing of the Force does not guarantee professionalism.
On the other hand, Chairperson of the Region Three Peace Council Mr. Shafir Zafar, made a three phased recommendation Friday on ethnically balancing the Guyana Police Force.
Dr. Walter Ramsahoye in his submission noted an urgent need for the entire police force to be revamped pointing to racial profiling and brutal acts on citizens.
The doctor informed the members that ranks believe they are above the law and, substituting themselves as judge and jury, carry out illegal executions.
His submission was based on the shooting of Brian King who died January 1, 2002. King was shot in his mouth. He added that this is not an isolated incident as far as the public is concerned. He expressed reservation about the functioning of the office of the Commissioner of Police and felt that the force was being undermined by the country’s political environment.
Red Thread and Help and Shelter, in a joint submission, highlighted the problems relating to the response of members of the Guyana Police Force to reports about child abuse, rape and sexual assault and domestic violence.
Among the recommendations submitted by the organisations was that a clear protocol be worked out with all of the health facilities in the country, to determine which Police stations should be called on to send officers to take statements from victims.
The organisations also recommended that ‘Special Victims Units’ be set up to assist in addressing such cases.
The Commission of Enquiry, which has been tasked to review the operations of the Disciplined Services, was set up by the National Assembly in accordance with the terms of the communiqué signed by President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Opposition leader, Robert Corbin.
The Commission is to give priority to its investigation of the Guyana Police Force and will submit the report of its findings and recommendations to the National Assembly. (Shirwin Campbell)