ABOUT 14 months after chaos erupted at the Camp Street Prison when prisoners set mattresses on fire, claiming the lives of 17 of their colleagues, the notorious prison which occupies an entire City block is at the centre of attention again.
On Sunday, members of the Guyana Fire Service rushed to battle a large conflagration at the prison, which many have been calling to be relocated from the City.
The fire started in the Capital Offences wing of the prison along Durban Street and reports indicate that the prison’s arms store was affected by the blaze, which spread to sections of the prison along Camp and Bent Streets.
While it is unclear what triggered the unrest, reports are that gunshots were heard inside the prison following which smoke was spotted emanating from the roof of the prison at around 17:00 hrs.
Prior to the destructive fire on Sunday and the one in March of 2016, the 133-year-old prison, has experienced several occasions of unrest in recent years.
These were caused by a number of factors, including poor conditions of the prison and lengthy periods of incarceration without trial for prisoners on remand.
The prison was built to house about 600 inmates, but for years, it has been dogged by overcrowding. Sunday’s fire was the fifth reported in the past six years, but aside from these, there were several incidents at the prison that made the headlines.
* In July 2010, inmates set alight a mattress in the Brick Cell block at the facility. Thick smoke emanated from the southern end of the prisoner’s block soon after and an alarm was raised. Luckily, the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) arrived promptly and doused the flames. No major injury was reported.
* In December 2010, the police and army swooped down on the Georgetown Prisons following reports of a break-out by inmates. Reports indicated that there was an attempted break-out by prisoners in solitary confinement. Armed police and army men were forced to barricade the immediate vicinity of the prisons, while residents were told that a Joint Services operation was underway.
* In April, 2013, officials at the Georgetown Prison had to take swift action after remanded prisoner, Colin Jones, had set his mattress on fire. He was in solitary confinement. The convict was facing a number of charges ranging from murder to arson to possession of guns and ammunition to escaping from lawful custody and cultivating cannabis.
* In March 2015, inmates started a fire in a cell on the new capital wing, but the Guyana Fire Service responded quickly and was able to prevent it from spreading to other sections of the prison.
* In September 2015, pandemonium broke out at the Camp Street Prison after a fight between cellmates ended with one prisoner chopped several times about his body. During the commotion, a mattress was set on fire, and again the Guyana Fire Service responded promptly and was able to put out the blaze. Like before, questions were raised as to how inmates get hold of flammable materials.
* On February 23, 2002, five dangerous men: Dale Moore, Troy Dick, Shawn Brown, Andrew Douglas and Mark Fraser, escaped from the prison, killing a prison officer and seriously wounding another in the process. The escapees then unleashed a reign of terror in Guyana.
Following the deadly fire in 2016, a Commission of Inquiry was launched and the findings were made public.
The inquiry found that as at February 29, 2016, the Georgetown Prison housed 979 inmates, some 448 or 84 per cent over the maximum accommodation capacity.
It also pointed out that food quality deteriorated as the prison budget stretched to cover more meals than originally calculated. The personal hygiene of prisoners was also affected by the overcrowding.
The Commissioners were of the view that the combination of overcrowded, uncomfortable and unhygienic confinement is ideal conditions for epidemics, for gangs to prosper and to propagate discontent.
The commission also found that reducing numbers in prison to manageable levels is the single most important priority for establishing safe, humane and purposeful prisons.
It further noted that repeat offenders have increased by over 100 per cent, “indicating not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but also the need for a more comprehensive and structured partnership within the wider justice system.”