Guyanese citizens are now living in a constant state of fear, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) told the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan as they called for someone to be held accountable and charged for the events which led to the escape of dangerous criminals.
According to a statement from the PSC, it met with Ramjattan, the Acting Commissioner of Police, David Ramnarine and the Acting Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels on August 22 to raise its concerns with the fire and prison breakout at the Georgetown Prison and the subsequent further jailbreaks from the Lusignan prison.
The Commission said it reiterated its concerns over the erosion of public security and safety; arguing that public confidence in the government is exacerbated by the fact that to date, no one, at any level, has been held accountable and no one charged for the events at the prisons.
“The Commission emphasised the serious damage that these events have caused to investor confidence here, at home and abroad, and to tourism and underlined the fact that scheduled business visits from abroad and planned events have either been postponed or relocated,” the statement noted.
The PSC said it further expressed its concern over the inability of the police to effectively curb the incidence of violent crime reaching into business places and homes across the country.
“Our citizens, the Commission stressed, are now living in a constant state of fear,” the PSC said.
According to the statement, the PSC said the Minister acknowledged the need for the urgent restoration of public confidence in the security and safety of the prison system and was open and frank in addressing the challenges faced by the country from the threat of violent crime.
“The Minister assured the Commission that every effort was being made to recapture the escapees who are still at large and to return the situation to normalcy,” the PSC said.
It was noted that acting Commissioner of Police, Ramnarine informed the Commission that the Police are conducting an active investigation into the Georgetown Prison Fire which is nearing completion.
The Minister provided the Commission with a comprehensive and confidential brief on the current and accelerated steps being taken to put in place a fully functioning prison system, but pointed out that gross overcrowding neglected over a long number of years will demand substantial sums of money not readily available to construct a new and expanded system sufficient to accommodate the present prison population. The Minister shared with the Commission the government’s plans for the urgent construction of a modern facility in the Mazaruni.
The Minister pointed out that a major contributing factor to the overcrowding of the prisons is the extraordinary number of remand prisoners filling the prisons, resulting from the unnecessarily high level of bail being assigned for relatively minor offences completely out of the financial reach of the persons accused of these offences. The Minister told the Commission that he was actively engaged in addressing the judiciary with regard to a solution to this problem.The Minister confirmed that the Prison Sentence Management Board has been appointed.
According to the statement, the Acting Director of Prisons made a comprehensive statistical presentation to the Commission, charting the current and historical status of prisoners both in the system and at large, largely providing answers to many of the questions asked in the public about the numbers and locations of the prison population.
The Commission strongly recommended to the Minister that he make the presentation public since it would go a long way towards reassuring the public that the authorities were in control of the situation.
On the question of rehabilitation of convicted prisoners, the Minister and his team outlined the significant efforts and arrangements in place, in spite of extremely limited resources and space, to ensure that released prisoners were able to be gainfully employed on their reintegration into society.
The Minister, however, lamented the fact that, generally, in Guyana, the stigma attached to ex-convicts made it extremely difficult to find employment for them.