— deal swiftly with threats against them, CoI recommend
By Shauna Jemmott
THE COMMISSION of Inquiry (CoI) into the Georgetown Prison Riot has recommended that prison staff be given a salary increase, which compensates for the risks they face on the job.The Commission headed by retired Justice James Patterson with commissioners, former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and Human Rights Activist Merle Mendonca, also urged that threats directed at prison officers be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
During the final submissions by Joint Services Attorney, Selwyn Pieters at the ending of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Georgetown Prison Riots and resultant deaths early May, the Barrister-at-law made recommendations to Chairman and Commissioners for better remuneration packages for Prison Officers, immediately after the officers had communicated the common concern to him.
The report which was submitted to the President on June 1, also recommended the appropriate honouring of heroic acts by prison officers, prisoners and Joint Services, and other compensations for officers.
“The emoluments of prison staff to be increased commensurately with the daily risk they face in the execution of their duties in a highly stressful and dangerous environment. A Special Insurance Scheme can be established and supported by Government to compensate officers in case of injuries or death while executing their daily duties,” the report states.
It added: “The heroic acts of prison officers, prisoners and other Joint Services members ought to be recognised in appropriate ways…. Threats of physical and psychological harm to officers and families must be dealt with swiftly and (in an) effective manner within the legal framework.”
It was reported that prison officers, including Deputy Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels, and their families, received threats of death and injury to body and property in the prison yard during and after the riots and through telephone calls, some by individuals unknown to them.
Cadet Officer, Udistair Holligan testified during the CoI hearings that he was not afraid of the threats, until prisoners threatened him in the jail yard that they would kill his entire family, convincing him that they knew where he lived, one even shouting aloud his address.
Guyana Chronicle understands that not one prison officer was excluded from the regular death threats and while at one time the officers made the prison yard their living quarters for their protection, at another point the majority stayed away from the yard and work for their safety.
According to the report, the Prison Officers Association must operate more effectively to advocate for better working conditions for officers and the prison administration must develop a system “to honour outstanding officers and ranks for their long and meritorious services”.
In terms of administration, the report recommends an immediate increase in custodial staffing in accordance with operational and management readiness of the Guyana Prison Service, and in the process, reviewing the male to female staff ratio. Staff training in various areas is to be done.
The report pointed out, “The current staffing is a recipe for continuous disturbances and security threats to the community at large”.
“Training of ranks must be structured in keeping with promoting management efficiency and a career development path in the Guyana Prison Service. Special courses that must be included in training are correctional leadership, modern correctional philosophy, control and restraints, developmental psychology, intelligence gathering, ethics in corrections and managing Security Threat Groups (STGs).”
The Chairman and Commissioners also recommended that retired soldiers from the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) be recruited to increase the capability of custodial supervisory staff in the short term.
“They must be carefully selected and appropriately trained to perform their new duties in keeping with modern prison philosophy,” the report stated.