Last tragedy at Camp Street Prison

first_imgIt was Karl Marx who remarked that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce: in the sense of the second iteration being a caricature of the first. More than a year after 17 inmates of the Camp Street Prison were killed and eight injured when they were trapped when the Capital Offences building was set ablaze, history repeated itself when another fire set by inmates on Sunday just razed the entire complex. While the reports are still incomplete, one prison guard was killed by inmates, six others had to be treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital along with two prisoners. Six prisoners escaped in the confusion.Following the tragedy of March 3, 2016, a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) had been constituted to enquire into the causes of the fire and more pertinently to make recommendations to rectify identified deficiencies that would have been contributing factors. One primary proximate cause was deep resentment and anger among many inmates at the inordinate length of time they were kept in remand. Structurally, however, the severe overcrowding at the facility combined with an extraordinarily high prisoner to guard ratio created a keg that was always on the brink of exploding.The 132-year-old prison then incarcerated 979 prisoners, even though it was built for 544 on specifications that made conditions extremely cramped based on modern prison norms. The ratio of prison officers to prisoners last year was 10 prison officers to 1000 prisoners; an extremely untenable ratio. In handing over the report in June 2016, the Chairman of the CoI Justice (rtd) James Patterson emphasised, “We would want it to be considered as urgent the improvement of physical and social facilities. We were concerned with the overcrowding.”The high number of prisoners on remand – 258 out of the 979 on March 3, 2016 – more than one-quarter – was also highlighted as a major problem since these individuals would have developed deep resentment to being imprisoned for years before their cases were brought to trial.But the Chairman of the CoI made some pointed remarks when handing over the Report that are most pertinent in the present since some may say, “hindsight is 20/20”. He said presciently, “The major challenge is not only identifying the steps that should be taken to avoid repetition of the tragic events… but also to recommend how to ensure that political support for implementation of recommendations does not wane when the issue disappears from the front page of newspapers.”The Report pointed out that over the past two decades, a stream of reports had been produced from commissions, committees, inquiries and expert consultants – all making identical recommendations for the upgrade of the prisons – but nothing had been done. Obviously fearing the same fate awaited his CoI’s Report, Justice Patterson said resignedly, “When we put forward our recommendations, our job is finished. What they do with them is a matter for them… but our concern is that our concerns are urgent, immediate and we want it done like yesterday.”At the time, the President insisted, “We have a good idea what needs to be done. We are gonna be strengthening Mazaruni and we are going to be continuing the process of redeploying prisoners from Georgetown to Mazaruni but the infrastructure at Mazaruni has to be improved.” However, even though the Government claimed that $2.2 billion would be spent to expand Mazaruni, and $369 million of that was supposed to be spent in 2017, it was not until the end of April 2017 that Cabinet approved the allocation of $58.5 million to “expand and rehabilitate” the Mazuruni Prison and contracts were signed with two contractors. No prisoner has been transferred out of the Camp Street Prison and in fact, the prison population increased since last March to 1018. This lassitude in implementing the recommendations of the CoI has to be seen as the ultimate cause of the last tragedy of Camp Street Prison. It must be rectified.tragedy of Camp Street Prison. It must be rectified.last_img

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