That prison commission
Kaieteur News
January 22, 2007

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The Mazaruni Prison must be a sieve because ever so often prisoners manage to slip away, much to the annoyance of the custodians and to the chagrin of those who must go in search of them.

Just yesterday we learnt that someone escaped from the facility in December and managed to reach a location in one of the Essequibo islands. This man not only conquered the surrounding jungles and crossed the rivers that he had to encounter, he also secured a fare to where he lived because he could not swim that far.

We are left to wonder at the efforts to capture him. Surely there was not the kind of hunt that accompanied the escape of the nine two Fridays ago. Perhaps the argument that it is only one man who was there for a petty crime—break and enter and larceny - while the nine included killers who were in for the long haul, having been placed there to keep them away from society.

Whatever the case, everyone who escapes from a penal facility is hunted down. Just the other day the Jamaican authorities nabbed a man who had escaped and remained at large for nearly three decades. In the United States it is the same. The trail is never cold and often people are caught, no matter how long it takes.

Here we are talking about a country with hundreds of millions of people but in Guyana here we have a man living in a community of a few hundreds and we cannot catch him.

The Home Affairs Minister has launched a Commission into the most recent jailbreak. That commission should investigate, among other things, the security at the prison, the nature of the relationship between the prison authorities and the prisoners; and the extent to which there is corruption in the prison.

In any corrective institution there are those prisoners who would be model fellows, who would obey instructions and do the best they could to avoid serving one day longer than they should. But there are those who would always scheme and plan to beat the system. These are going to be the prisoners who would use their every waking minute to create conditions for their escape.

A vigilant prison staff would quickly identify these people and try to rehabilitate them. Failing that, they would isolate them, allowing them the minimum of unsupervised attention.

In these pages we have taken a look at what operates in the prisons and it is disturbing to say the least. Drugs abound behind the prison walls and as we all know, the prisoner cannot get drugs into the prisons. It is the same with cellular phones and guns. Certainly these actions place the lives of other prison officers and prisoners at risk.

Any investigation should take these things into consideration.

Further, we note the decline in the number of men joining the ranks of the prison officers. There was a time when overwhelmingly, men staffed the prison compounds. They were more than able to handle the population. Today we have a preponderance of women who once were only confined to secretarial duties.

For now, in the Georgetown Prisons the authorities are doing their best to keep women out of the ‘yard', but this is proving to be increasingly difficult. And it goes without saying that the male prisoners would have precious little regard for women officers.

To add insult to injury, these are men who have been denied certain physical needs because of incarceration and among the needs are women.

There should be an inquiry into the reluctance of men to join the prison service and whether we would be able to maintain the prisons in the not too distant future if we keep relying on women to perform the duties of prison officers.

It is now clear that all is not well in the prison system and no investigation could be too late. A lot needs to be done because there seems to be a lot wrong.