The Government moved with alacrity to appoint a CoI into the deadly prison riot at Camp Street Prison. This was after the visit by the Minister of National Security and the Minister of State who rushed to the Prison after 17 inmates had perished in the fire. The latter two worthies brokered a truce that had the prisoners returning to their cells and the Government committing to immediately improving living conditions. So far so good.
But there’s a fly in the ointment immediately identified by the local Transparency International head: the appointment of Dale Erskine as a Commissioner. Erskine had retired only in 2013 as head of the Prison after decades on the job. Now it was under Erskine’s watch, some of the most egregious breaches of security at Camp St had occurred – including the infamous 2002 Jailbreak of Andrew Douglas, Dale Moore and Company.
Whatever problems the Prison might be presently facing, most of them had to’ve been highlighted in three previous investigations. The reports were produced under Erskine’s watch. The bottom line is THE PROBLEMS AT CAMP STREET DIDN’T JUST SPRING FULL GROWN FROM THE BROW OF THE RECENTLY RIOTING PRISONERS. One of the most pertinent questions, then, would be: what had Erskine done to solve those problems?
This Eyewitness remembers back in 2007, Erskine was under some pressure to resign by then Home Affairs Minister Rohee after two sets of prisoners almost escaped. Forbidden implements had been found on the prisoners – even though not of the deadliness of the gun wielded by Moore and Douglas when they killed one prison guard and maimed another. So is Erskine supposed to be just sitting there to investigate why he was part of the team that screwed up big time?
More to the point, are former prisoners – who’d be the ones with inside info – expected to tell Erskine to his face he screwed up? Police, guards and convicts form a small community where everyone knows everyone. There can be repercussions if toes are stepped on. Our Eyewitness isn’t sure why Erskine was picked since the reaction against him was predictable – and any report that’s issued with him aboard will be seen as tainted.
Is he there simply to cow witnesses? Why would the Government want to shoot itself in the foot like this? Or is it because the bad blood between Rohee and Erskine will enable the Committee to become a “Get Rohee!” posse? And not so incidentally get Ramjattan off the hook?
Whatever it is, things don’t look too regular for root-and-branch prison reform.
Another problem with the Prison CoI was the conclusive statements by the Chairman at his press conference after just one visit to one portion of the Jail. That 12 Camp Street was described by him as a “war zone” has been widely quoted…but there was another statement that was more troubling to your Eyewitness. This was when the Chairman said he saw “two contending factions…one which may be described by some as the wretched of the earth and the others as the oppressors”.
Now this judge is of an age and educational background to be fully cognisant of the origin and implications of his description, which was coined by Franz Fanon. The “wretched of the earth” are the poor and powerless who’re oppressed by the ruling class that must be destroyed in an orgy of violence.
The violence, Fanon claimed, was not only instrumental in getting rid of the oppressors, but “cathartic” in cleansing the minds of the formerly oppressed.
If the Chairman thus concluded, why even hold an Inquiry?
In one of his major moves to quell the spiralling crime rate on the coast, Ramjattan insisted his gun amnesty be extended to the hinterland. And unlicensed weapons must be surrendered – even though killing wild animals didn’t add to the crime rate.
Luckily that’s been reversed before folks there suffered from protein deficiency!