‘Roaches, centipedes, lice and rats flourish’

- Report details conditions of “indescribably harsh” Camp St. Prison

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The overcrowded Camp Street Prison, in which 17 prisoners died during a riot between March 2-4, 2016, was indescribably harsh, the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the incidents has found.

“Prisoners spend most of their day in spaces which are occupied by three, four and five times more people than they intended to accommodate.”

“Roaches, centipedes, lice and rats flourish,” the report, tabled in the National Assembly Thursday, stated.

It added that the Ministry of Health, which has the power to demand the release of prisoners on health grounds, offer minimal services to the prison despite there being a sizeable component of mentally ill, HIV-positive, and drug/substance-addicted prisoners.

The Commission noted that it heard of men trying in the night to get to the toilet areas, stepping on sleeping prisoners, failing over others, causing fights.

Further, the report noted that almost daily a group of prisoners leave the prison early in the morning to search for firewood for the prison kitchens.

According to the COI report, information provided by the Guyana Prison Service shows that some 60 percent of prisoners living in these conditions were not found guilty of any crime, who in theory, enjoyed a presumption of innocence. As such, the report concluded that as remand prisoners, they were the responsibility of the Judiciary, not the Prison Service, who has no discretion to refuse to take them.

The Commission has stated that agencies with statutory responsibilities to support the prison system failed in their supporting role.

“Attorneys-at-law are rarely seen in the prison assisting remand prisoners to get to trial.

“Over the past ten years, an average of only seven prisoners per year have been released by parole,’ it was noted.

As such, the Commission noted that the responsibility of the tragic events that led to the death of the prisoners could not be blamed on the prisoners and the staff. The Commission found that “a chronically under-strength staff, the majority of whom are female, are outnumbered.”

The report recommended that the emoluments of prison staff be increased commensurately with the daily risk they face in the execution of their duties in a highly stressful and dangerous environment.

It was also noted that 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 also recommended that threats of physical and psychological harm to officer and families must be dealt with swiftly.

The State spends an estimated G$485, 000 on one prisoner for a year, which means, one prisoner (per day) costs the State $1, 329.

According to the COI report, the overriding theme emerging at all stages of the Inquiry was the pervasive way over-crowding in prison undermines all faces of prison life.

At the time of the unrest, the prison could have accommodated a maximum of 531 prisoners, but it in fact had 979 inmates, or 84% more than what it could have reasonable accommodation.

“The combination of over-crowded, uncomfortable and unhygienic confinement are ideal conditions for epidemics, for gangs to prosper and to propagate discontent,” the report noted.

The Commission said reducing numbers in prison to manageable levels in the single most important priority for establishing safe, humane and purposeful prisons.

The report concluded that “a more radical shift away from the plantation mentality of control and contain is imperative.”

Retired Justice, James Patterson, now chairman of the Elections Commission, chaired the Commission of Inquiry. Others on the Commissioner were former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and Ms. Merle Mendonca.

Most of the Camp Street prison was destroyed in a fire July, 2017.

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