March 5, 2007
On the eve of February 23rd there was reportedly a minor disturbance within the walls of the Georgetown Prisons; minor in the sense that it led to no serious breach of security and certainly not a break-out. Unfortunately, every incident no matter how insignificant at Lot 12 Camp Street is cause for a jangling of the nerves. Coming on the night before February 23 it was even more disconcerting considering that the bloody and disastrous 2002 prison break occurred on that same day as the country was celebrating its republic anniversary. The grouses of the prisoners just over a week ago were said to be related to conditions at the prison and the length of time it was taking for their trials to come up. No official statement has been yet issued on this matter despite the known public sensibilities about unrest at the Camp Street jail.
It had been initially thought that the commotion outside of the prison, the blaring of sirens and the swarming of the area by security personnel was an exercise to test the preparedness of the security services to respond to any attempted break-out again on the republic anniversary. It should have been but unfortunately it was the prisoners acting up again.
The coincidence of the unrest and February 23rd is a bit hard to ignore. Especially in the light of the earlier sustained unrest last year which started around the same time that the horrendous and dastardly attack was launched on the village of Bagotstown and the Kaieteur News printery. Though many were of the opinion that there had to be some connection between the prison unrest and the East Bank slaughter, the authorities apparently saw no link and did not pursue this matter. Last week's incident may add more illumination to the possibility that the prisons, and the uncanny ability of inmates to be in touch with the outside, could be fuelling nefarious schemes to sow confusion and violence whenever there is the capacity for this. The prisons authorities, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Joint Services should take full cognizance of this possibility and factor this into their contingency plans.
The quality of the administration of the prisons continues to be cause for serious concern. The one act of carelessness and poor security led to the spectacular escape of five dangerous criminals in 2002. The rest is history. If one had to ascribe a death toll and a cost in terms of the robberies, instability, compromising of law and order, proliferation of the death squads and maiming from this one event then the prison service and their minders would be in the same plight as the HIPC countries.
Despite this horrific legacy, the blundering, incompetence and corruption continues. Prison officials continue to be caught in various schemes and the atmosphere within the Georgetown Prison comes across as volatile and incendiary. Now that we have been told clearly that Lot 12 will not be relocated anytime soon, greater attention must be placed on keeping it secure and defusing the tension that appears to be pervasive.
But it is not only Camp Street. The Mazaruni jail continues to be a source of much disquiet and threat. Nine inmates got away from this important facility earlier this year and though they were all eventually recaptured there was much fear and concern and several members of the Joint Services were wounded in a friendly fire incident during the initial attempt to intercept them. More to the point, the break-out raised the question about the laxity of prison administration across the board and in particular at this facility. Just over a year before this incident there was a similar escape from Mazaruni and though the miscreants were recaptured in short order there could be no satisfaction over this incident because of its potential for transformation into a serious threat.
This is exactly what may have happened in another escape from the Mazaruni jail in December last year. This time only one person, Ronald Daniels, escaped. Perhaps out of shame and the wish to cover up, the prisons administration never publicised this escape from the jail. It was only when the Sunday Stabroek reported this escape following concerns expressed by persons in Bethany village about the escapades of Daniels that the public knew of this event. To date, there has been no photograph of this man issued by the police or the prisons administration so that the public and the residents on the Essequibo coast in particular could be on the alert.
It now transpires that Daniels is the prime suspect in the shooting murder of Essequibo logger Indar Gajadar. If, indeed, Daniels was behind this killing then the prisons administration and the police will have much more explaining to do about their clearly laid back approach to recapturing the escapee.
In the larger consideration of the various security crises facing the country, there must be a reckoning over the continued poor administration of the prisons and sweeping measures taken to ensure security and stability. Half measures won't work.