One year later: Overcrowding remains prevalent, escapees still at large
By Devina Samaroo
Today marks one year since tragedy struck when the country’s chief penitentiary crumbled to ashes after prisoners set it on fire in a bid to escape.
Though efforts are being made to prevent such a disaster from occurring again, overcrowding in the prison system remains prevalent and two prison escapees remain at large.
It was sometime after 16:00hrs on July 9, 2017, the country’s security forces were called into action following a fire that had erupted at the overcrowded Camp Street, Georgetown prison.
By midnight, the jailhouse was completely flattened, several high-profile criminals had escaped, a prison officer lost his life and the country was on lockdown.
One year later, efforts to rebuild the prison and deal with the overcrowding issue are still in progress.
Prison Director (ag) Gladwin Samuels told reporters last week that the rebuilding of the Camp Street Prison is being done in three phases.
The first is to get prefabricated steel cells, which are currently being constructed in the United States.
Samuels said 60 cells will be constructed and each would house up to three persons.
The second is to figure out the construction details.
The third aspect is the expansion of the Mazaruni Prison facility, which will address the overcrowding issue.
Some $1.5 billion was allocated in last year’s budget to commence this project and a contract has been awarded.
Hundreds of prisoners who were housed at the Camp Street facility had to be transferred to the other jailhouses across the country.
While the situation at most of the jailhouses were under control, the influx of the prisoners at the Lusignan Prison, East Coast Demerara (ECD) was out of control, even resulting in more escapees.
The prisoners were initially housed in an opened field which triggered concerns about basic human rights.
The Government was forced to pump millions of dollars into the creation of a temporary holding centre next to the prison and the prisoners were subsequently transferred there.
To date, some 523 prisoners remain at that temporary holding centre while about 200 high profile criminals were relocated to the Camp Street prison.
The Prison Director explained that initially, prison security consisted of ranks of the Tactical Services Unit (TSU), Guyana Police Force (GPF) and Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
But today, the GDF has recused its services but remains on standby in case of an emergency.
Samuels noted that overcrowding remains a prevalent issue but efforts are being made to create more space to accommodate prisoners.
To improve security, he said monies have been allocated for the improvement of the CCTV system at prisons.
With regards to the prison escapees, two of them still remain at large. These are Cobena Stephens, a murder accused and Paul Goriah, who was serving jail time for break and enter and larceny.