Last Updated on Friday, 4 March 2016, 23:45 by Denis Chabrol
Calm was restored at the Georgetown Prison late Friday morning as a delegation of prisoners met with two top government ministers and reached a negotiated settlement to three days of unrest that left 17 inmates dead and nine others injured.
“I would believe so, I would think so. I think it was an important step… We believe that this was a very useful engagement and I think it will enure to the benefit of the whole security situation not only here in the prison but in the country because people have families and their families are concerned about what is happening here and so we believe that was happened here this morning will ease the situation a bit,” Minister of State Joseph Harmon told reporters.
More than 12 prisoners met with the Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan and the Minister of State , telling them about the poor conditions in the Camp Street jail, limited telephone communication with families, poor quality food and inhumane conditions being meted out to them by members of the Guyana Prison Service.
They claimed that several of the prisoners were left to burn to death.
Ramjattan said the prisoners promised to stop the unrest that began Thursday night. “They have promised that they are going to calm down now that they have seen two senior members of government,” he said. The Public Security Minister rejected suggestions that government might appear weak by meeting the prisoners and giving into their demands. “Absolutely not, it is meeting them to meet their demands and I feel it is a useful thing talking to them and hearing their versions too because indeed they could be speaking to the prison authorities and the prison authorities listening to them and not acting,” he said.
Ramjattan said some of the concerns are “very credible” but it was too early to say whether any prison officers currently stationed at the Georgetown Prison would be re-deployed.
Harmon echoed Ramjattan’s report on the talks that the prisoners have assured that they would make every effort to convince other inmates to ease the unrest. “The important thing is that they have given us a commitment that when they get back into the prisoners that they will speak with the other prisoners to ensure that there is no further escalation in what is taking place this morning so I think we have a sort of a gentleman’s agreement on both sides. We are going to try to keep our end of the bargain and they are going to keep theirs,” said Harmon, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
After the more than one hour of talks, Ramjattan said some of the issues such as the quality of food and telephone communication would be addressed immediately and that steps would be taken to address the others by the Board of Inquiry. “That Board of Inquiry will start as soon as possible to hear the complaints of the prisoners and I want as many prisoners to give the evidence of what is happening and the systems in place and all of that for purposes of remedying that which they are complaining about,” he said.
He hoped that prisoners would take the opportunity of testifying before the three-member Board, which could be named Thursday.