Drugs, corruption, entrepreneurs rampant in Camp Street prison
-former inmate tells Disciplined Forces Commission By Andre Haynes
August 29, 2003
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This is according to former inmate Tajpaul Gainda, who testified before members of the Disciplined Forces Commission of Enquiry (DFC) yesterday. The commission was set up by the National Assembly and has been mandated to review the operations of the Disciplined Services, which includes the Guyana Prison Service (GPS).
Justice of Appeal Ian Chang chairs the commission which comprises former Attorney-General Charles Ramson SC, former National Security Adviser, Brigadier (rtd) David Granger, attorney-at-law, Anil Nandlall and Irish human rights activist, Maggie Beirne.
Gainda, who spoke from his own experiences within the jail during a term he served in 2000, said he observed both prison officials and prisoners engaged in corrupt practices often to the disadvantage of other inmates.
He said this situation began as soon as inmates were admitted to the prison system. In his own case he said an orderly told him of the unsatisfactory conditions in the prison and intimated that for the right price he would be placed in a location where he could rest comfortably.
During his stint he said he saw parcels being thrown over the fence for prisoners and in some instances officers would assist in the delivery of such packages to inmates.
“On one occasion I saw a bag stuck on the fence and an officer went and took it down with a jukker (makeshift knife) or a stick with hook, and passed it on to a prisoner in the infirmary... everybody was a bit surprised.”
Inside the prison he said inmates parcelled off small foil-wrapped packages, suspected to be narcotics, which they peddled freely, either wholesale or retail to their customers, in the presence of officers who turned a blind-eye. He said cigarettes, cigarette-lighters and pepper sauce were also on sale.
Gainda said the illicit items were hidden within prison cells, which were fitted with double walls to conceal packages. He said at least two cells on the #3 landing wooden prison had double walls where such items were concealed by prisoners who made big profits.
“I know a prisoner who had $100,000. He [was] running the drug business inside there... he dresses like he is on the road, he sends out money to his mother and his wife [and] he lends officers money,” Gainda said, claiming that he had witnessed this with his own eyes.
In another situation he said he knew of a prisoner who managed to save $30,000 from his activities. However, a few days before his release, a prison officer borrowed the money and did not return it. The hapless prisoner after his release visited the institution several times in hopes of reclaiming the money, but to no avail.
“An inmate isn’t supposed to have any money at all in his possession. I see it as a dangerous phenomenon...” Gainda said,
“I was there when a guy was stabbed for $10....”
In his explanation of how money was illegally filtered into the prison system, he said officials acted as intermediaries between members of the public and prisoners, to whom they delivered the money, albeit after extracting a percentage for their services. He cited the inmates located on the southern side of the prison as an example, pointing out that they often communicated from their cells with members of the public on D’Urban Street, giving them instructions.
In addition, Gainda said corruption even extended to the prisoners’ diets, which he described as substandard and not fit for human consumption. A large amount of this food was often dumped due to its inadequate preparation, which never accounts for the religious or cultural peculiarities of the prisoner. He further revealed that while inadequate meals were prepared for the general prison populace, those inmates who could afford it could purchase specially prepared meals from their counterparts working in the kitchen for $40 or $60. These proceeds were usually split between the kitchen staff and participating officers. He added that some officers were also guilty of stealing the food and other supplies consigned for inmates, making off with meat and leaving only bones.
Gainda attributed the close relationship which existed between prisoners and prison officers as one of the factors responsible for the state of affairs in the Prison, where some prisoners were “favourites”. He held the view that officials needed to know where to draw the line.
Among his other concerns is the failure of the authorities in the GPS to implement proper programmes for the rehabilitation of inmates, which he considered crucial for their proper reintegration into society. Instead, the prison system breeds criminals through the grouping of hardcore criminals with petty crooks.
Gainda’s primary recommendation for the reform of the system is the placement of the office of the Director of Prisons within the prison.
“What is your assessment of the relationship between officers and inmates? Was it satisfactory from a supervision point of view or was it inadequate?” Granger asked.
“Inadequate, Sir. Highly inadequate,” Gainda added, recalling that he noticed only ten to twelve officers supervising the entire population which he estimated at 900 prisoners.
“Would you say it is difficult for a group of determined prisoners to break out, or would it be relatively easy?”
“It is not anything easy, you would have to be brave.”
“What are the major abuses to which you feel inmates are subjected to in the Georgetown Prison?”
“I have heard of younger inmates being taken advantage of by stronger ones, sexually.”
Asked if he had ever witnessed any brutality by staff against inmates, Gainda said he had never seen any such practices at the Georgetown Prison, but witnessed beatings first-hand at the Mazaruni jail. However, he added that such practices were discontinued after he spoke out against it and considered that that prison was the model by which all others within the system should be designed. He recommended that the Mazaruni jail be converted to the central prison facility, housing all the major offenders, while Georgetown could serve the remand prisoners.