Tuesday, May 21, 2013
- For years the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) had been bemoaning what it calls the inhumane conditions at police lock-ups throughout the country, but their moans and groans had seemingly fallen on deaf ears.
But that has now changed following a recent article in the state-owned Chronicle Newspaper.
The paper, usually conservative on anything perceived to be capable of embarrassing the government of the day, ran a story about a nine-year-old boy left languishing in a city police station for three months while hardened criminals repeatedly sodomised and brutalised him.
The child, whose name has been withheld by the police, had not been charged with committing any crime, but was thrown in jail for allegedly stealing a domestic animal.
Relatives claim that officers at the Brickdam Police Station in central Georgetown denied having the child in custody and did not own up to his detention until an adult detainee was released and broke the story to the newspaper.
Since then it has become public knowledge that the child had been placed in a cell with hardened criminals, many of them repeat offenders detained for crimes like armed robbery, burglary and inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Once he read the story, Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, a former criminal defence lawyer, sprang into action.
He called the police top brass and organised a visit to the station. Following the visit Gajraj said he was horrified at what he saw and ordered immediate changes.
He removed all adult prisoners from the Kitty Station in north Georgetown and transferred them to Brickdam, where the child had been held since September, while he ordered that all young offenders be sent to Kitty. But this was not before the place was disinfected, cleaned up and minor repairs made to both facilities. Until last week, there were no separate facilities for juveniles.
Members of the GHRA who have many times thrown up their hands in despair about the seemingly callous attitude of the police and prison officials to the situation are now commending Gajraj for his action.
“After years of striving toward this goal, the GHRA welcomes the decision that the Brickdam lock-ups will finally be closed. Nothing symbolised so starkly, the levels of degradation to which the society has fallen as the bestial experiences of Brickdam lock-ups. Men died violently and many detainees were physically and emotionally scarred for life, particularly those who were innocent and wholly ill-equipped for the foul and repulsive conditions in the lock-ups, ” the GHRA said in a statement.
The boy has now been released, but the story has left many in the society angry.
Terry Singh, a chicken vendor at one of the city’s municipal markets said he was outraged at the situation. ” Tears came to my eyes when I read it. It could have been my son. What is happening in a country when it gets to this stage. I myself don’t think I could survive such an ordeal, ” he said.
The GHRA said authorities appear to feel that treating detainees with respect and offering them basic facilities for hygiene is a luxury or a concession. But, said the human rights organisation, these are minimum standards consistent with human dignity in all circumstances.
The association has also welcomed moves by the minister to build a new women’s facility to replace the one in the city’s southeast that is also an embarrassment to authorities as the cells are usually overcrowded with up to four times the number of detainees for which it was built nearly 30 years ago.
The GHRA said that way back in 1987, it had called the attention of authorities to the filthy state of the Brickdam and other lockups.
Back then, only six of the 12 cells were considered to be habitable. Today, all have deteriorated to the point where no human being should be housed there, the GHRA said. Most have no proper sanitary facilities, the GHRA said.
Meanwhile, these recent developments have come just weeks after Gajraj himself announced that government is seriously considering privatising the prison system.
A British team of experts is expected here next month to do a detailed review of the correctional system and to recommend a course of action to authorities.
“We would definitely have to examine it in greater detail and see how it lends itself to implementation, ” he said. He also suggested that the main Georgetown Prison might be moved from southern Georgetown to a location outside the capital. That facility was built at the turn of the century to accommodate 400 inmates. Today almost 1,000 persons are housed there.