…brick prison being prepared for intake
AROUND 250 prisoners are likely to return to the Camp Street penitentiary to be housed in the recently constructed brick prison, well-placed sources have told the Guyana Chronicle.
The newly-built brick prison is one of the only buildings still standing amidst the rubble at the Camp Street site. It was constructed at a cost of $80M following recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the March 2016 prison riots which claimed the lives of 17 inmates.
The Guyana Chronicle was told that the inmates are likely to be transferred from Lusignan to the brick prison before the end of the week. According to sources, among those who will be housed there are persons on remand for murder and other serious crimes. “Basically, it will be a remand centre and just for those who are on remand and have to attend trial and court,” the source who asked not to be named said.
Only this week, retired Judge, James Patterson told the Guyana Chronicle that Camp Street should be transformed into an emergency remand centre. Patterson who chaired the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the March 2016 riot said: “Perhaps the Government might think about clearing up the debris in Camp Street and making that an emergency remand centre.” According to him, the prisoners on remand should not be sent to the various prisons across the country but should be held at the remand centre. “This is something Government may want to consider… until the required resources are acquired for the construction of a new prison,he said.
President David Granger on Tuesday said his administration did not intend to rebuild the Camp Street-based penitentiary as it was prior to the fire. The President had led members of Cabinet on a tour of the gutted facility. He posited that the authorities will return to the drawing board “to determine whether it is appropriate to have a facility such as a prison at the centre of the capital city.” He said that the country’s three major prisons, Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Mazaruni Prisons were constructed by the British in each county. “So this is what was adequate maybe 120 years ago,” President Granger said, noting that the authorities “definitely” will discuss what type of facility is needed following Sunday’s fire. “But we are not going to have the same type of facility here again,” he reiterated. He said the devastation at the site almost totalled the facility.
The President said that the government was aware of the situation at the Camp Street Prison prior to the blaze and, according to him, the authorities were acting on recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) after the riots at the prison last March. “We knew we had to strengthen Mazaruni (prison); money had been provided,” the President said. Government is in the process of expanding the facilities at the Mazaruni prisons.
”This was an accident waiting to happen”, the Head-of-State noted of the inferno. He explained too that the New Amsterdam prison was equally a “fragile structure”, noting that government is acting with the resources at hand. He assured that the Ministry of Public Security, at the end of the process, will have more secure prisons across the country, which he noted will not be susceptible to the cycle of breakouts which have been happening.
Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, had said the “brick block” of the Georgetown Prisons will house high-profile prisoners. The brick prison can house more than 300 prisoners. During the sitting of the COI into the prison riots, Attorney-at-law Selwyn Pieters who represented the Guyana Prison Service had said Government needed to invest financially in constructing a brick prison, since the main prison is housed in the country’s capital city, which is also the country’s business capital. Further, Pieters pointed out that Superintendent Kevin Pilgrim, Officer-in-Charge of the Georgetown Prison, in his testimony, had said the old wooden structures make it easy for inmates to hide contraband, and pose challenges for officers assigned to the living units. “Wood buildings at the Georgetown Prison…have their place, and their place now is ‘historic relics’; those are not places to house prisoners,” Pieters told the Commission at that time.
Expansion of Mazaruni
Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that the plans to expand the Mazaruni Prisons were initiated after the completion of the COI last year. Noting that the 2016 National Budget was already passed when the COI was completed, the Minister said a request for the funds for the project’s first phase was approved in this year’s budget. These plans will see the foundations for a state- of- the- art modern prison being built on the grounds of the Mazaruni Prison to the tune of 278 million dollars.
The expansion will entail the construction of solid cast foundations, wall supports and internal fixtures such as wiring, utilities and other features being built over a one-year period. The new section, which will be adjacent to a part of the old prison, will also feature automated locks, sprinkler systems and forced ventilation. Twelve concrete houses are also being built to accommodate prison officers stationed there, at a cost of $178 million dollars.
Ramjattan explained that this is the first step towards building a maximum- security prison which will accommodate some 400 prisoners. He added that an engineer from Trinidad with prior experience in constructing similar facilities is a consultant on the project. When completed within the coming year, it will ease the problems of overcrowding at other prison facilities across Guyana.