THE LAW enforcement authorities are to be congratulated for their efforts in containing what was a most dangerous and embarrassing lapse of security at Golden Grove Prison. However, the State must face up to difficult questions over the circumstances which led to eight men – on serious charges including murder and armed robbery – escaping in the first place.
A good place to start would be the factors identified by Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson. These include overcrowding in cells and insufficient manpower. Undoubtedly, such problems contributed significantly to the failure of authorities to detect the plan to escape as well as the actual jailbreak. But preliminary details shared by Wilson suggest the matter is more complex.
A hacksaw blade has been mentioned as part of the plan, used to saw through bars. A brick was removed. Escapees reportedly had time to slim down to be able to fit through the slender opening they had devised. Such an operation would have required co-ordination among the prisoners, but also potentially prison officers. How is a hacksaw blade snuck into a cell? How does such an operation come into being without being detected? Were prison officers asleep?
Wilson was quick to say there is no reason to call in the police, saying a preliminary report was being put together. “Based on our report, we will know where to go from there but there is no reason to call the police unless there is some criminal intent,” he said. We urge him to reconsider this relatively mild approach. The questions are too serious, the long-term implications for facilities overseen by his men too dire. Call in the police now.
It is regrettable, and this lament has previously been made by many stakeholders in the criminal justice system, that overcrowding has led to a situation where there is a mixing of different classes of inmates. People on remand for murder are being held in facilities designed for lesser levels of risk, rendering facilities ill-suited to their initial design.
The jailbreak makes plain another aspect of this unsavoury problem. Housing people charged with such serious offences alongside those accused of lesser degrees of wrongdoing opens the door to recidivism. Mixing the hardened with the neophyte risks the latter being indoctrinated into ever worse forms of wrongdoing.
We condemn this jailbreak and hold no brief for the people who perpetuated it. But we observe that the deeper problem of endless delay continues to place pressure on finite resources to the extent that those resources are literally buckling.
The law enforcement agencies are to be congratulated for their co-operation and hard work in apprehending the escapees who have been caught. But the accidental grounding of a national security helicopter along the way risked deepening the sting from this already sordid and unbelievable affair.