September 28, 2016

British Govt offers help with Guyana’s prison reform

British High Commissioner Greg Quinn

British High Commissioner Greg Quinn

In light of the recent unrest earlier this month at the Georgetown Prison during which 17 inmates were killed and several others as well as prison officials injured, the British Government has indicated its willingness to aid Guyana in reforming its prison system.

This offer was indicated by British High Commissioner to Guyana, Greg Quinn, who told reporters on Tuesday that the United Kingdom is reviewing the Security Sector Reform (SSR) Programme to find ways it can assist the Guyanese Government in strengthening the prison system.

“I have had recent discussions on prisons subsequent to the deaths and the riot. I expect that the action plan on security sector reform and what we do going forward to be completed by the end of April and then we will look at putting in place the various recommendations which I know the Commission will come up with,” the High Commissioner related.

Last year, the British diplomat had announced that his Government would be conducting an assessment in Guyana with the aim of reviving the SSR Programme here. He explained that because the SSR Programme was designed some nine years ago, things have significantly changed over the years, so the first step of the process would be for the British Government to undertake an assessment mission.

“(The assessment) will look at the whole security sector again and they will come up with a new plan and we will go from there. We are hoping that that needs assessment mission will come out the first quarter of next year,” Quinn had stated.

The needs assessment report was scheduled to be completed during the first quarter of this year.

On the other hand, High Commissioner Quinn further told reporters that he was pleased with Government’s response to the prison riot. He commended President David Granger and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan for both the immediate and long-term responses to the unrest.

“I think they are doing a very good job in a very difficult circumstance,” he noted, while adding that the level of violence that broke out on that fateful day was unexpected for everyone. Quinn further remarked that setting up a Commission of Inquiry had been the sensible thing to do.

“I think if something similar had happened in the UK, you would have also had a Commission of Inquiry … I think a Commission of Inquiry to try and find out the root causes and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again is a perfectly legitimate and perfectly sensible thing to do,” he posited.

Meanwhile, Government last week announced that local prison officers would be travelling to the United States to participate in a mock prison riot exercise. This was in response to an invitation from the US to be part of the 18th mock prison riot to be held at West Virginia State Prison in the US between May 1 and 4 later this year.

On March 3, 17 prisoners died in a fire said to have been set by the very inmates at the Camp Street Prison. Thirteen persons, including officers, were also injured. According to reports, the bodies of 16 prisoners were found in the ‘Capital A’ section of the Prison.

Prison officials, acting on reports, had carried out a search on March 2 within the ‘Capital A’ building during which several contraband items were seized. These included 19 cellular phones and a quantity of narcotics.

It was in retaliation for this that the prisoners set a series of fires later that night by putting their mattresses in front of the grille of their cells and setting them ablaze. Firefighters spent hours there, putting out at least three separate blazes. After the firemen had managed to put out the first fire, the angry inmates started another blaze at the same spot. This fire too was successfully doused after about 15 minutes, much to the dissatisfaction of the prisoners, who again started another fire.

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