Mandatory marijuana testing, scanners to weed out corrupt prison officers

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By Bibi Khatoon

The Guyana Prison Service has put in place a more rigid system to vet new recruits in order to curb smuggling at the various prisons across the country.

It is believed that smuggling of contraband into the prisons is as a result of collusion between prisoners and prison officers.

However, by the end of 2018, this is not the only measure that will be in place according to Director of Prisons (ag), Gladwin Samuels.

He told reporters on Friday that while there has always been a vetting process in place, this has become more stringent as the problem persists.

One new addition to the vetting process is mandatory marijuana testing for all applicants.

“There is the belief that if you are smoking marijuana, it means that you have access to it and you are likely potential trafficker,” the Prison Director explained.

The Camp St. Prison

As a result, out of 40 persons who passed the recent theoretical test given to new recruits, eleven persons were eliminated. Another batch of persons is up for the mandatory marijuana testing in the coming week.

Samuels said the Prison Service currently has 479 staff and more is needed to man the various prisons.

He disclosed that two officers have been dragged before the court for smuggling of marijuana recently while five others were interdicted from duty.

He agreed that there is collusion among prison officers and prisoners and noted that the officers at Mazaruni Prison were recently warned that it is either collusion or a total failure of the checking systems in place for persons visiting the facility.

The Lusignan and New Amsterdam Prisons have been in the news frequently over the past weeks for smuggled items.

In the last publicized raid at the Lusignan Prison, 31 improvised weapons were found along with eight cellphones, 3 ziploc bags with cannabis and a tattoo machine among other contraband items.

At the New Amsterdam Prison, several items were discovered by prison officers on the inside of the fence.

Superintendent Deoraj Gyandat, Officer-in-charge of the New Amsterdam Prison on Friday told reporters that a major challenge is posed by the close proximity of residential areas around the prison.

“Especially at the back of the Prison…persons are literally living at about 10 to 15ft off the prisons so persons sometimes access those areas…

“So the challenge is that most of the time we do not really see directly who hurls these parcels and it’s very difficult to apprehend the suspects,” Gyandat explained.

The prison authority is also working to implement scanners at the facilities but Samuels said the amount of radiation which will be emitted has to be taken into consideration especially for prison officers who will be frequenting the facilities.

“We had several submissions from international suppliers, we had some local companies who would have provided specs as well so we are at a stage where we’re trying to finalise exactly what is best in terms of the radiation that it will emit and that will also serve the purpose intended,” he told reporters.

The question was asked about increasing prison officers’ salaries since some may become involved in illegal activities to supplement their income.

However, the Director of Prisons (ag), warned that it is better to walk away from the job than it is to get your name tarnished since persons entered the profession knowing the package being offered.

By the end of 2018, the CCTV systems at the prisons are expected to be improved as well.

Samuels disclosed that the prison population is currently made up of 2,183 prisoners.

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