2 prisoners shot dead; Ministers forced to exit after riot broke out at Lusignan

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Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn and Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony were forced to exit the Lusignan Prison on the East Coast of Demerara on Saturday afternoon after some prisoners became hostile and threw missiles; the situation deteriorated and resulted in Prison Officers shooting seven inmates who tried to escape, resulting in the death of two of them.

The two Government Ministers were seeking to calm the prisoners who have been protesting by refusing meals over the fact that two inmates tested positive for the deadly new Coronavirus recently.

The dead prisoners have been identified as 51-year-old Earl Graham and 21-year-old Winston Herbert.

The Guyana Prison Service in a statement noted that Graham was serving three months imprisonment for malicious wounding, assault and resisting arrest while Herbert was in custody for rape.

Five other inmates – two at the Georgetown Public Hospital and three at the Lusignan Prison – are in a stable condition, the Prison Service said.

The detailed statement from the Prison Service stated that at around 07:30h, the prisoners refused breakfast.

The holding area at the Lusignan Prison

“This situation was immediately brought to the attention of the facility administrators who engaged the prisoners to hear their concerns and to address those where possible. However, the prisoners refused to engage the administrators and demanded to see the Minister of Home Affairs.

“This standoff continued unto 12:30 hrs but when attempts were made to distribute the midday meal the prisoners continued their refusal and increased their demand to see the Minister.”

As a result, Ministers Benn and Anthony visited the Holding Bays at Lusignan about 13:15h and met with some of the prisoners.

“The ministers were loudly cheered and welcomed on entering the facility. They commenced a discussion with nominated representatives of the prisoners from Holding Bay 2. During this engagement all the prisoners appeared calm and those being engaged appeared receptive.

“Concerns surrounding extensive timelines between court hearings and remand, among other issues, were raised with the Ministers who committed to address those within their scope but also informed the prisoners that the ability to address the issues within the remit of the courts was outside their authority but would be brought to the attention of those with those responsibilities.

“The issue of overcrowding and the risk of exposure to the COVID 19 pandemic, due to recent positive test returns amongst inmates, were also raised.”

According to the Prison Service, the response was generally well received, but during the subsequent discussion by the Ministers with inmates of Holding Bay 1 some prisoners from Bays 2, 3 and 4 “became aggressive and began throwing missiles which caused the Ministers to end engagement and exit the confines of the compound.”

“After the Ministers exited the main gate, the situation rapidly degenerated and became riotous with some prisoners scaling the inner fence of the Holding Bay, thus entering the restricted area, and launching attacks on the prison officers within the compound who had to flee to safety.”

According to the statement, “After the officers left the main compound, the situation rapidly deteriorated into mass disorder with inmates rushing the main gate in a bid to break same.

In response to situation, and in a bid to contain same, ranks posted within the towers discharged several shots in the general direction of the gate which resulted in the injury of seven inmates and restoration of relative calm to the situation.”

The statement noted that following the return to order, the injured prisoners were extracted and initially attended to by medical personnel on the ground.

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