Assault of inmate by Prison Officers, seizure of drugs linked to unrest/fire at Lusignan Prison
By Isanella Patoir
The beating of an inmate at the hands of four prison officers along with the seizure of a quantity of marijuana, one cell phone and alcohol led to the unrest and subsequent burning of a section of the Lusignan Prison, East Coast Demerara Sunday.
Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels at a press briefing on Monday said that the incidents occurred simultaneously.
Samuels explained that at about 11:55h he was informed by Officer in Charge at the Prison, Senior Superintendent Alexander Hopkinson that there was a discovery of parcel with the drugs.
“Yesterday it was clearly overheard that the prisoners said there was a drought in the prison as it relates to the availability of contraband, so I think that situation would have further propelled for the desire for them to get their stuff,” Samuels told reporters at the Ministry of Public Security’s Brickdam Office.
The Prison Director explained that within the last two weeks there were three cases of illegal items being confiscated at the prison and one person was also arrested for attempting to smuggle marijuana into the prison.
Subsequent to the discovery of the illegal items Sunday, there was an altercation between a prisoner who works in the kitchen and another inmate.
“….it was brought to my attention that the prisoner was assaulted by one of the officers,” Samuels said.
The prisoner was then escorted to the prison yard where he was further assaulted by the other officers after he threatened to kill them.
The four officers have since been removed from the prison.
“These matters are still being investigated, so what I am saying is not definitive,” Samuels stated.
With the seizure of the illegal items and the assault to the prisoner, the inmates began to break the wooden walls of the prison and subsequently set fire to the building, demanding that the drugs be returned.
“The items were not returned and in light of the two circumstances at the time it resulted to fire being set to the building,” the Prison Director explained.
The old wooden building was quickly engulfed in flames and burnt flat to the ground.
The Prison’s kitchen and a section of the Administration building were also destroyed.
Quick action by the Joint Services prevented any escapes and no one was seriously injured.
However, Samuels said a number of prisoners were armed with knives, forks and cutlasses from the kitchen; all of the weapons were successfully confiscated.
Following the fire, ranks of the Guyana Defence Force were deployed to assist members of the Police Force, Fire and Prison Services secure the facility.
The Guyana Police Force previously stated that some 15 prisoners were injured, but Samuels clarified that 11 prisoners were injured; two, including the prisoner who was assaulted, were referred to Georgetown Public Hospital where they were treated and discharged.
Over 200 prisoners displaced
As a result of the fire, 284 prisoners have been displaced. Twenty-seven were transferred to the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, 51 to the Timehri Prison and 50 to the Mazaruni Prison.
“This leaves an additional 156 prisoners who will have to be accommodated at the holding facility; this situation will take the locked in population at the holding facility to 581,” Samuels explained.
The Lusignan Holding facility was set up after the 2017 Camp Street fire and was sectionalized into three bays. A fourth bay was built recently to conduct searches; the 156 prisoners are now in holding bay four.
Prior to Sunday’s fire, there were 425 prisoners in the holding facility. There is now an increased police presence at the prison.
Meanwhile, eight prisoners have been named as masterminds in the unrest and investigations are ongoing in this regard.
No budget to rebuild
Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan at the press briefing noted that there is no budget to cater for the rebuilding of the Lusignan Prison.
He said the focus will be to complete construction works at the Mazaruni and Camp Street Prisons and relocate the prisoners to these facilities.
Due to COVID-19, the construction works have halted. Ramjattan said what is more important now is to build a kitchen to feed the 581 prisoners at Lusignan.
Further, it was also noted that there is a need for more staffing at the prisons. Samuels explained that every time there is recruitment they are faced with the issue of corruption and have to dismiss staff.
“This is something I have always being speaking on and unfortunately it has not changed.”