The Commission of Inquiry set up to look into last week’s riots in the Georgetown Prison will begin taking evidence on Thursday.
Five prisoners are expected to appear before the Commission and offer evidence that could assist the Commission in its work.
At a morning press briefing, the Chairman of the Commission, retired Justice James Patterson said that the Commissioners visited the Camp Street jail house on Tuesday and he was left surprised by what they saw.
“We left there 7 o’ clock last night and it wasn’t nice. What I saw, seemed like a war zone that they are now getting back together. I saw two contending factions. One may be described by some as the retread off the earth and another, as the oppressors. It is sad. We met prison officers who I don’t think, had sleep for three days”, the Chairman of the Commission said.
Overcrowding in the Camp Street jail has always been a worrying issue over the years, and the issue is likely to come up during the hearings. The prison currently has a population of over 980. It was built to accommodate 600 inmates.
The current ratio is 10 prison officers to 1000 prisoners.
The Commission Chairman noted that the Commission will examine the Conditions of the prison system and make recommendations.
Justice Patterson also pointed out that the Commission is open to everyone who may want to offer evidence that would help the Commission in its work. However, he admits that not everyone could appear before the Commission.
The staff of the Commission will determine exactly who appears before the Commission based on the evidence that the person may be offering.
The hearings will be open to the public and the press but if there are cases where witnesses would prefer to offer their evidence in-camera, those persons will be accommodated.
Patterson explained that the Commission is also open to accepting video evidence as it continues its work and will likely return to the Camp Street jail for a visit as the hearings continue.
Asked by News Source if he is confident that the government will follow through on the recommendations that will be made, Mr. Patterson said he is there as the Chairman of a Commission that has specific terms of reference. Once, its work would have be completed, he said “that’s it” and made it clear that he is not there to offer advice to the government.
The other members of the Commission are former Prison Director, Dale Erskine and Human Rights Expert, Merle Mendonca.
Seventeen prisoners lost their lives in a fire during a protest at the Camp Street jail last Thursday. It was the worst prison tragedy recorded in Guyana’s recent history. The Commission of Inquiry was ordered by President David Granger.
It will investigate, examine and report on the causes and conditions that led to the disturbances last week which resulted in the death of the 17 prisoners. Additionally, the Commission will also seek to determine whether the conduct of the Guyana Prisons Service officers who were on duty and thereafter, were in conformity with the Standard Operating Procedures of the Guyana Prison Service.
The Commission will also determine whether the deaths of the prisoners was as a result of negligence, abandonment of duty, disregard for instructions or inaction of the prison officers who were on duty.
The Commission’s first report is expected within a month’s time.