Wardens at Georgetown Prison on sick-out

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 April 2016, 19:10 by Denis Chabrol

More than one dozen prison wardens attached to the Georgetown Prison reported sick on Thursday, amid fears of another major prison unrest.

Demerara Waves Online News was told that wardens might be worried that inmates at the overcrowded jail might be arming themselves for another round of violence. Earlier this week, a warden opened fire after someone hurled a bag over the north-eastern end of the Georgetown Prison’s fence. Three men on two motorcycles fled the scene.

The Ministry of the Presidency later said in a statement that the National Security was informed that there has been an increase in cases of marijuana being thrown over the prison fences and wardens are afraid of being harmed by prisoners, who are under the influence of the drug. In light of this, President Granger has ordered that the outer cordons of the prison be extended to include D’urban, John and Bent Streets, which will be blocked off to the public except for persons residing within those areas, as is done on Camp Street. Additionally, the Commander-in-Chief has directed the Guyana Police Force to assist prison officers in manning the Camp Street facility and the Guyana Defence Force to assist in guarding the outer cordons of its precincts.

Director of Prisons, Carl Graham denied that the police declined to give into a request to beef up security at that maximum security jail. “I don’t know about the police declining to give assistance. That has never happened in my time as a prison manager. The police is always on call whenever we call for assistance,” he said.

Graham told Demerara Waves Online News that a number of steps have been taken to deal with the fact that at least 13 of the 15 wardens who should have reported for duty reported sick.  He declined to theorize what might have motivated the sick-out and what are some of the measures being taken to maintain security at the jail.  Sources told Demerara Waves Online News that wardens from other prisons have been re-deployed to the jail in the capital city.

Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, who held an emergency meeting with President David Granger earlier Thursday, told Demerara Waves Online News that a number of the prisoners appeared bent on demotivating the wardens. “From what I am hearing it’s a lot of disrespect that the prisoners are showing to them- spitting in their faces, threatening them, telling them that their families are going to be in crisis outside and all of that is damaging their morale, quite frankly, and that is why a number of them are sicking out apparently,” he said.

Following a meeting of the National Security Committee, the Ministry of the Presidency said in a statement that “the committee was informed that since the deadly prison riot in early March, inmates have become bolder and much more aggressive; displaying weapons and acting menacingly towards prison officers. As such, the officers have become fearful to carry out their duties. This is suspected to be the reason behind 13 officers submitting seven-day sick leave certificates.”

Ramjattan also dismissed claims that the Police Commissioner, Seelall Persaud declined a request by the Director of Prisons to deploy additional members of the police force to the jail. “Not as far as I am aware,” At the same time, he confirmed that Persaud and Graham were up to late Thursday meeting to work out “measures” to ensure the situation remains calm. “It is a very, very serious situation and we are trying to address it because this situation where I feel that a number of the leading prisoners there might be doing a couple of things to attain their objective to damage morale of the prison wardens,” he said.

It was on March 3, 2016 that 17 prisoners were burnt to death in Guyana’s worst prison unrest. Several convicted and remanded prisoners have already laid the blame squarely at the feet of the prison authorities on that fateful that, at a Commission of Inquiry.

The Acting Director of Prisons described the current situation at the jail as “under control.” “What I can say is that security is presently under control.” The Ministry of Public Security was expected to issue a statement.