Prison Service structure to undergo major shake-up
The Guyana Prison Service, looking to recompose from the 2016 March riots and the July 2017 fire and jailbreak at the Camp Street Penitentiary, is currently on the verge of undergoing major shake-up of its management structure.
Acting Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels, told Guyana Times in a recent interview that the structure of the Prison Service has to be reviewed in order to improve its management.
“We’ve already gone through the consultancy in terms of that being done, so we’re just waiting now [for] the proposal on the table to be approved; and hopefully this is done, which will see the provision for larger intake of persons especially at the supervisory and managerial levels,” he told Guyana Times.
The 2016 riots resulted in 17 inmates being burnt to death, while several others along with prison staff were injured. Last year’s fire destroyed most of the building at the Camp Street jail, leaving only one standing, while several inmates took advantage of the jailbreak and escaped.
Samuels explained that these incidents occurring over the past two years have significantly affected the Prison Service and further hampered the Service’s ability to conduct the required staff training.
“Our Training School has actually been out of use since 2016 because we had to reconfigure the use of the Training School to meet current needs. However, we recognised the need to tackle that, and several systems are being put in place in terms of ensuring that the training needs of staff are met, so that they’re not affected by that in terms of upward mobility,” he asserted.
The Prison Director posited that, over the past few weeks, there has been significant advancement in terms of recruitment. Some 32 persons are currently undergoing a 13-week training course, while, at the same time, an additional 33 persons are in the process of being recruited.
“That will take care of all persons at our entry-levels. While we have some vacancies existing at the top, there’re several criteria that persons have to fulfil in terms of being eligible for upward mobility, which we’re currently addressing,” Samuels explained.
He outlined that in order to facilitate upward mobility, the Prison Service offers internal training, while there are also promotional exams as well.
Additionally, the Service is encouraging its officers to improve their academic qualifications by facilitating their tertiary education pursuit, which is also a pre-requisite for promotion.
Asked whether there are qualified persons within the organisation who can be considered for upward mobility at this point in time, the Prisons Director responded in the affirmative.
“Yes, there are several persons who, based on the internal training we would have offered and based on their academic qualifications, [are qualified to be promoted]. Despite we’re not attracting as much qualified people as we would like, there are quite a few persons who have joined and who have been around for some time, especially those who are furthering their education at the various technical institutes and the University of Guyana,” Samuels stated.
Even as these efforts are being undertaken to strengthen the capacity of the Prison Service in order to make it more effective in fulfilling its mandate, authorities are struggling with curbing the smuggling of contraband into the prison system. It is believe that this perennial problem still remains because of the involvement of both prison and Police officers in facilitating the illegal trade, which is said to be a “big business”.
In fact, back in May, five prison officers had found themselves in trouble for smuggling marijuana into the Lusignan Prison; while only two weeks ago, a Policeman was caught attempting to throw more contraband items into the holding area of the same facility.
Samuels pointed out that efforts are constantly being made to rid the prisons of contraband, but every time exercises such as raids are carried out and items seized, the demand for more illicit items is created, which some officers take advantage of and capitalise on.
“We have been putting systems in place… But what is clear (is that) there seems to be established syndicates – these are officers who are working in collusion with each other to facilitate the movement of these [contraband] items into the prison. We do not have the luxury of being able to have a gazetted rank on every shift, and in the absence of these persons who lend oversight, the persons on the ground tend to capitalise on these opportunities to carry out their illegal acts,” he noted.
Samuels further explained that while several methods are there to gather intelligence in the prison environment, these efforts are hindered by the practice of officers who witness or are aware of such acts by their colleagues but choose to remain mum instead of reporting it to higher authorities.
Because of this, Samuels posited, it is difficult for authorities to identify these rogue officers, and so they go on with their corrupt acts.
“Many persons have not been forthcoming with information they are privy to, and so these [corrupt] persons are not known… But the fact that you cannot link it to some specific time, it is difficult to sanction persons who are on duty, because sometimes when you discover these items, it could be days that they’re in the prison already, and so to just go and bring charges against the persons who were on duty during that entire period might not be in the best interest of the service,” the Prison Director asserted.
Nevertheless, in efforts to further beef up security and prevent the smuggling of contraband into prison facilities, the Prisons Service will be getting its first full-body scanner in December, with an additional three others included in the 2019 Budget.