October 1, 2016

Dale Erskine should not sit on prison CoI

Dear Editor,
I do not think that Dale Erskine should be a sitting member of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that is now impanelled to investigate the recent riots in the Camp Street Prison. Neither do I think that the entire CoI should be a public spectacle. Except that the inmates who testify will be placed in some kind of a witness protection programme, I think that their testimonies should be off camera, minus Erskine.
I have visited and worked with prisons in several countries and if there is one thing I believe I am an expert in, it is criminology and matters relating to prison inmates and the offender population.
I also know that if this CoI will get to the bottom of this issue, in a way to remedy the situation; (a) Erskine will have to recuse himself from the commission, (b) parts of the hearing will have to be off camera, or (c) the inmates will have to be guaranteed their complete and protracted safety if they speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I understand that there is an option for the inmate to request confidentiality of his testimony, however, if what he says in private is different, or more in-depth, from what the others said in public, the axe will fall at him.
There are a few words and terms that are known by their standard meaning in any English speaking prison around the world. One is conjugal visit – this is where a spouse or loved one is allowed to enter the prison confinement and have intimate relationship with their incarcerated lover. Another is prison mentality – this is where the incarcerated person begins to act like an inmate, either in an effort to cope, or just by mere default. Another word is snitch or snitching – this is where a prisoner tells the authorities about the violations that happen in the prison.
What this CoI is asking the inmates to do, in essence, is snitch.  They are asking the current inmates to finger another inmate/s or an officer/s who did the wrong. Snitching could have some very serious repercussion for an inmate, ranging for mistreatment, even to death, depending on who is affected by the snitch.
For example: If an inmate was to say to the CoI, that officer “X” takes money to allow matches, cellphones and drugs to enter the prison. If word gets back that he snitched, all those (officers and inmates alike) who benefit from the business of drugs, cellphones and matches entering the prison, will seek to do harm to that inmate.
Therefore, it is very unlikely that any inmate will tell the commission what they really need to know, while the cameras are rolling or while the former Superintendent is sitting there.
Knowing this as a fact, I will tell you, Editor, that the current approach and construct of the CoI will yield only limited fruits, for in these situations perception is reality. However, if the intention of this inquiry is to really get to the root of the causative factors that lend to the recent riots and if the intentions are to prevent a repeat, then the format and the personnel of the CoI will have to be adjusted.
While the  taxpayers and the media are owed the courtesy of knowing the findings of the CoI, I am sure they will prefer that systems be put in place for the obtaining of tangible and substantive information that will solve the issues at hand.
Editor, I would personally like this issue to go away. Coincidentally, I live just a few houses from the Camp Street Prison, so I am very concerned. I am also very interested in the safety of those living directly around the Prison. Several of them have expressed fear for their lives during the riots.
As a matter of concern also is the financial losses to the businesses that have to close, or to which access is restricted, every time the inmates act-up.
Additionally, I am vying to represent this constituency in the upcoming Local Government Elections and so what bothers my constituents, bothers me.
Editor, I have absolutely no problems with Dale Erskine. He has served both this country and the Guyana Prison Service very well and he continues to be an asset, even in his retirement. Erskine is well intentioned.
However, because of my professional expertise and because I study how the average inmate thinks, I would highly suggest that the conveners of the CoI take another look, both at the construct and the approach of the commission.
Just by way of comparison; we just had the report from another CoI, which validity has been called into question by some, in part, because of construct of that commission.
History should be our teacher.

Wendell P Jeffrey,
Independent Candidate,

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