Guyana Prison Riot, Fire Create Major Security Headache

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A massive prison riot that occurred in Guyana’s capital this past weekend could have serious ramifications on the country’s overall security situation, while also underscoring well-known flaws with the region’s prison systems. 

On July 9, inmates set the Camp Street prison in Georgetown ablaze in an orchestrated jail break that resulted in the destruction of the entire facility and left two prisoners wounded, one police officer dead, and three inmates on the run, reported Caribbean360.

While the remainder of the prison’s 1,000 inmates were temporarily evacuated to the Lusignan Prison on the outskirts of the city, authorities are still attempting to figure out a permanent housing solution for the prisoners. 

According to Public Security Minister Khemjar Ramjattan, the government has secured the transfer of only 300 inmates to other prisons, with the remaining 700 yet to be permanently accommodated.

“[We] have a big crisis on our hands,” he said.

To make security matters worse, the prison fire resulted in the destruction of thousands of conviction records and warrants, which prisons are required to be in possession of under Guyana law in order to maintain inmates in custody, as reported by the Guyana Guardian

As a result — and given the nonexistence of fingerprints, photographic data, or other evidence to fairly determine who was or was not convicted — the government may be forced to release as many as 500 convicts. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The destructive riot in Guyana’s Camp Street prison serves as an illustrative example of how prison systems in the Caribbean are just as susceptible to the systemic infrastructure and overcrowding problems that plague those in the rest of the region.  

Authorities in Guyana were previously aware of the security flaws associated with this prison. Just last year, a similar fiery prison riot there left 17 inmates dead and at least five injured. 

SEE ALSO: The Prison Dilemma in the Americas

At the time, the prison was already overcrowded, housing approximately 984 inmates in a facility made for 600. Now that the country’s largest prison has been destroyed, overcrowding in the rest of the country’s prisons is likely to be exacerbated, as authorities scramble to find locations to house the displaced inmates. 

Moreover, if the government is, in fact, forced to release a large number of the inmates, the influx of convicts to society is likely to present yet another security headache for a country that has shown a lack of capacity in fighting organized crime on its own and that has previously been referred to as a “narco-state.”

The latest crime and safety report by the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council refers to Guyana as a “critical threat location for crime.”

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