September 23, 2017

Granger admits prison blaze “was an accident waiting to happen”

President David Granger; Minister of State, Joseph Harmon; Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo along with fire and prison service officials on Tuesday at the flattened Georgetown Prison

Government will be going back to the drawing board to consider a new structure to house prisoners at the Camp Street penitentiary, President David Granger has said.

The Head of state said the condition of the facility has rendered it inadequate, noting that the fire on Sunday was an “accident waiting to happen”.

Granger made the remarks moments after leaving the Camp Street premises which were gutted on Sunday by fire, allegedly started by death row inmate Royden Mark Durant, also known as Mark Williams and “Smallie”. The President, along with his team of Cabinet members, visited the facility to get a first-hand view of the aftermath.

According to President Granger, Government will have to go back to the drawing board to determine whether it is appropriate to have a facility such as the Prison at the centre of the city.

“The three major prisons were constructed by the British in Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. This was adequate maybe 120 years ago, certainly it is not adequate now, so we will definitely have to go back to the drawing board to decide whatever facility we’ll need. But we are not going to have the same type of facility here again,” the Head of State said outside the gates of the Prison ruins.

He said the devastation was “almost total” and there were no intentions of rebuilding it as it were before.

Asked whether Government was disappointed that better security measures were not taken to prevent such a recurrence, President Granger said the Administration was aware of the situation and was acting on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

He said Government knew that it needed to strengthen Mazaruni, since money was provided and the Administration was in the process of expanding the facility at Mazaruni when the incident occurred.

“This is an accident waiting to happen,” the President said, continuing that the New Amsterdam penitentiary was also in a fragile state.

“So we are working as quickly as we could with the limited resources and we can assure you that at the end of it, the Ministry of Public Security will have a more secured prison that is not susceptible to this cycle of breakouts. This is the last breakout,” he said.

“We are aware of the fragile structures that were erected over 100 years ago, and we have done our best in the circumstances.”

Among the recommendations of the CoI following the deadly prison fire in 2016 was the automatic release of prisoners, who were on remand once the time served equalled the sentence which the offence attracted. Further, maximum limits for the time inmates were on remand was also under consideration.

It was also suggested that the high number of prisoners on remand was responsible for overcrowding in the prison system.

Other recommendations to ensure reduction of overcrowding included the resolution of legal issues required, the abolishing of Preliminary Inquiries (PIs) as an urgent priority of the Judiciary; a robust programme of community-based sentencing alternatives and a piloting of alternative and community-based sentences with women and juvenile offenders.