GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday March 4, 2016 – A three-member panel is to be set up to investigate the riot at the country’s main jail which sparked a fire that left 17 prisoners dead and at least five others injured yesterday.
The deadly uprising at the overcrowded Camp Street, Georgetown prison – built for 600 but now housing approximately 984 inmates – came on the heels of unrest the day before, according to Prison Superintendent Kevin Pilgrim.
Speaking at a press conference with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan – who had described the situation as a crisis – and other high ranking prison officials, Pilgrim said that on Wednesday afternoon a mandatory monthly raid was conducted at the jail and 19 cellphones and a quantity of marijuana were seized during the two-hour operation.
Sometime later that day, inmates in the Capital A section which houses those committed to stand trial and others on remand, began lighting mattresses. Pilgrim said a total of nine fires were set, but those blazes were extinguished and the prison was returned to some state of normalcy, even as inmates demanded to have the contraband returned.
Further unrest was reignited the following morning as prisoners were being moved from one section of the prison, he said, with inmates starting a fire that got of control and engulfed part of the facility.
Pilgrim said the deceased appeared to have died from burns and smoke inhalation.
Sad and tragic indictment of Guyana’s prison space. What is the plan to move prisoners in the case of an… https://t.co/AIaS94EaAU
— Enrico Woolford (@enricomw) March 4, 2016
Worried relatives of inmates gathered outside the prison demanding answers, as the injured and dead were being taken away.
However, it was not until late in the afternoon that they were allowed to check on whether their loved ones were on the dead or injured lists.
Images from the Guyana Chronicle of prison fire that killed 16 in the capital of the South American country: https://t.co/IKkW0HIfkK
— Dánica Coto (@danicacoto) March 3, 2016
Security has since been beefed up in and around the prison and several nearby roads have been closed off to traffic.
Responding to questions from the media yesterday, Pilgrim said a single warning shot was fired during the riot but inmates continued their rampage.
He also disclosed that the smuggling of illegal items has been a problem at the prison and admitted that there were some corrupt prison officers who might be helping inmates.
“I will not sit here and deny that we don’t have some officers who are corrupt. That is a fact,” he said.
President David Granger, who yesterday summoned police, fire and prison officials to an emergency meeting, is expected to today name the members of the panel that will probe the incident.
“The President is deeply saddened at the loss of life and has ordered the immediate establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the circumstances and causes of this tragedy to ensure that there is never a recurrence,” a statement from the Office of the President said.
“The President assures the family members of the deceased and injured that everything will be done to ensure that there is a full and complete investigation.”
Minister Ramjattan, responding to questions about overcrowding at the prison, said the matter would be addressed.
He said government intends to look at relocating some of the prisoners to other facilities, but stressed that building a new jail was an expensive undertaking that the administration could not afford at this time.
Ramjattan also assured that efforts would be made to minimize the long waits for cases to be called in court – an issue that he said had been among the protesting prisoners’ complaints.
Meantime, the opposition People’s Progressive Party expressed “utter shock and horror at the tragedy” at the jail and contended that the Granger-led administration had to accept full responsibility for the disaster.
Guyana’s opposition, People’s Progressive Party heaped criticism on the government in wake of Thursday’s protest… https://t.co/p33RipHCUz
— News Source (@newssourcegy) March 3, 2016