Guyana * THE STATE IS RESPONSIBLE
The government has expressed its condolences to the families of the dead inmates of the Camp Street Prison riots. Some claimed that the PPP would have lambasted the government at the Babu Jaan ceremony to commemorate the 19th death anniversary of the late Cheddi Jagan.
It did not happen. Instead the former Minister of Home Affairs has called for the resignation of the Minister of Public Security. In his response, the Minister has blamed the former Home Affairs Minister for not implementing the recommendations made by several groups and individuals on prison reforms.
It is troubling for the families of the deceased and the wider public to witness two Ministers blaming each other for the prison riots. This has no place in society, especially at a time when 17 inmates perished in one of the worst prison riots in the Caribbean.
Hopefully, if there is ever one good outcome from the prisoners’ death, it should be a partisan approach by both the government and the opposition to improve the dreadful conditions at all the Prisons. The Public Security Minister should institute changes urgently to make sure that the human rights of prisoners are not violated, especially those on remand. It is too important and sensitive a matter to be made into a political football. The prisoners and their families deserve better.
While the families may take some comfort that that their loved ones are no longer suffering from the horrible prison conditions, their deaths should have a lasting impact on the government, and should lead to some major reforms of the archaic prison systems in the country.
Further, some serious questions must now be asked about the circumstances surrounding the riots, particularly in light of the fact that the state is responsible for the security of all the prisoners as well as for all merchandises, illegal or legal that enter or are smuggled into the prison.
If the Prison system is not working as it should, then the government should take steps to correct any deficiencies, notwithstanding the views of the Prison Directors. It is obvious that there is room for improvement in the prison system.
Mere hours after it was announced that 17 prisoners died, families stormed the Camp Street establishment seeking information about their loves ones and some, especially women were seen weeping. They blamed the deaths on this and the previous governments because both did little to improve the primitive conditions at the prison despite numerous complaints by prisoners.
While the Director of the Prisons was praising his agency’s handling of the situation, he conceded that time was of the essence to prevent the riots, citing the critical nature of the situation. He claimed that all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were followed.
However, as reported in the media, there was an over-caution by the prison authorities for not sending in prison officers or the riot squad to quell the situation. Simple procedures should have been in place to ensure a faster response.
Many believed that a chance had existed for many prisoners to survive. It seems that the prisoners themselves caused their deaths, first by starting the fire and secondly by trapping themselves in their cell.
Many among the 17 dead inmates have been unduly stripped of a chance, even a slender one, of life. Their deaths stand as an indictment against the State, and all who would, through whatever agendae, have created the conditions of foot-dragging and obtuse procedures at prison reform. The State should apologize immediately to all the families of the deceased and not defend the indefensible, that poor conditions exist in the prisons.
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