– as Govt sets up CoI to probe prison riots
Deputy Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels has been sent on six weeks leave with immediate
Deputy Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels
effect to facilitate a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the recent unrests over the past few days at the Georgetown Prison which left 17 inmates dead and several others, including prison officers, injured.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, during a press conference at his office on Friday, disclosed that Senior Superintendent Samuels was asked to proceed on leave after he along with Minister of State Joseph Harmon met with several prisoners earlier in the day.
There have been several allegations levied against Samuels with prisoners, and as well as relatives, claiming that the inmates who were killed were purposely left to die.
However, Minister Ramjattan posited that Samuels’ leave was necessary at this time. “Mr Samuels, who is the Deputy Director of Prisons, will be on leave for the next six weeks from that environment there for good reasons – as a result of a perspective given by the Director of Prisons, myself and also Mr (Joseph) Harmon. We think that that is necessity at this stage,” he said.
According to the Minister, the decision should not be viewed as an “indictment on Samuels at
Officer in Charge of Camp Street Prison Kevin Pilgrim, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State Joseph Harmon at Friday’s press conference
all”. He explained that during the meetings himself and Minister Harmon had on Friday morning, a number of the prisons had indicated certain things which would have influenced the decision to send the Deputy Director on leave.
“There were a number of the prisoners that indicated a couple of things about Mr Samuels and for both his interests and also the interest of prison, and my discretion, I indicated that it might be advisable at this stage that Mr Samuel’s (proceed on leave).
Ramjattan, add too, that the decision was also based on the fact that his Administration has been asking for senior ranks to take their annual leave, rather than having them accumulated. “It about a winsome opportune moment for him to go on leave,” he noted.
Commission of Inquiry
On the other hand, the Public Security Minister announced the names of the three-man panel that will be heading the Commission of Inquiry into the prison riots. The probe will be headed by former High Court Judge, Justice James Patterson as Chairman; Human Rights Coordinator Merle Mendonca, and former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine.
The trio is tasked with inquiring “… into all the circumstances surrounding the death of 17 prisoners from the Camp Street Prison, Georgetown, on the morning of Thursday 3rd of March, 2016, to report the findings and conclusions to the Minister of Public Security and to make recommendations on any action that should be taken to avoid a recurrence”.
Among the Terms of Reference (ToR) to guide them during the inquiry are to investigate, examine and report on “the causes, circumstances and conditions that led to the disturbances on (Thursday morning) that resulted in the death of 17 prisoners and any other subsequent disturbances at the Camp Street Prisons, Georgetown” and also “inquire into the nature of all injuries sustained by the prisoners during the disturbances on (Thursday morning) and any other subsequent disturbances”.
The Commissioners will also have to “determine whether the conduct of the staff of the Guyana Prisons Service who were on duty on (Thursday morning) and thereafter was in conformity with the Standard Operating Procedures of the Guyana Prisons Service”; as well as to “determine whether the deaths of the 17 prisoners was as a result of negligence, abandonment of duty, disregard of instructions, inaction of the Prison Officers who were on duty on (Wednesday night and Thursday morning)”.
In addition, after probing the incident, the three-member CoI is expected to make comprehensive recommendations to ensure the safety of the prisons henceforth. They are required to make recommendations in the areas of improving the physical infrastructure of the prison; security arrangements in relation to the custody, management and control of prisoners; appropriate treatment of prisoners in compliance with legal and other requirements, and to prevent a recurrence of any such disturbances.
Also, present at Friday’s press conference was Minister Harmon, who indicated that the work of the Commissioners will commence on Monday March 7, and the first report is expected to be submitted on March 15. He noted that any further extension of time for a more detailed probe will have to be granted by Minister Ramjattan.
The Inquiry will be held at the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Public Service building located at Lot 164 Waterloo Street, South Cummingsburg, Georgetown.
According to the two Ministers, these steps by Government are immediate actions taken in respond to concerns raised by the 18 prisoners during their meetings earlier in the day. Ministers Ramjattan and Harmon met with teams of prisoners from the Capital A section of the penitentiary where the incident occurred and also with other prisoners who would have also witnessed what transpired.
The Public Security Minister pointed out that a number of measures will be put in place almost immediately to address the prisoners’ concerns.
“We are going to try immediately to have the telephone calls (from prisoners) to their relatives improved from two per week to three per week at this stage, simply because we do not have the telephone lines to accommodate them but as soon as we get more telephone lines, and that will be in a couple weeks’ time, we are going to further review this to include it up to four or five times per week,” he stated. It was noted that these calls are monitored by the prison’s officials.
Assistance for families
Interventions were also made by the Public Security Minister for the Prisons Service to ensure that meals are given on time to the prisoners and that it is of the quality prescribed by the Standing Orders.
With respect to the issue of the lengthy detention periods that the prisoners complained they face while on remand, Minister Harmon said that this matter was raised with the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, and a meeting is scheduled for next week to determine a resolution to this situation.
“What we can say to the inmates, is that their concerns with respect to the long periods of incarceration on remand will be addressed and addressed very quickly by the judiciary and the Administration,” the Minister of State assured.
Additionally, the Ministers disclosed that Government has taken steps to provide assistance in off-setting funeral expenses for the families of the prisoners who perished. This aspect is being coordinated by the Social Protection Ministry and families are asked to make contact with the Ministry, not only for assistance but for updates on the situation within the Georgetown Prison.
On the other hand, Officer in Charge (OC) of the Camp Street penitentiary, Kevin Pilgrim, who also sat besides the Ministers at the press conference on Friday, took the opportunity to publicly apologise to those aggrieved by the events which unfolded over the past three days.
“I am sorry”
According to Pilgrim, the prison is in an emotional state, not only for the prisoners but the officers as well. He recognised that it was his mandate to preserve the lives of every inmate along with the officers who supervise those inmates.
“Yesterday [Thursday] was a very unfortunate incident, I am sorry… I just want to say that I don’t have to wait on an inquiry or an investigation to personally say sorry, simply because of the fact that I am responsible for this prison location and the laws of Guyana stated clearly when you decide to take up that challenge as an Officer in Charge, like of solider for this troops, you have to be responsible for everyone under your charge,” he remarked.
According to OC Pilgrim, following Friday morning’s disturbances, order was restored at the facility, with the continued presence of members of the Joint Services in and around the Georgetown Prison. He added that repair works have commenced, particularly in the area that was kicked out by inmates on Friday. These workers are undertaken by the Ministry of Public Security and the Demerara Harbour Bridge Company.
Pilgrim also revealed to reporters that in order to maintain order within the confines of the Camp Street Prison, some 47 young offenders were removed from the facility and transferred to the Timehri Prison. These young offenders would be allowed to contact their families today.