THE DISTURBANCE at the Golden Grove Prison on Tuesday represented an extraordinary breach of security, which endangered prison officers, damaged State property, and put prisoners themselves at risk. More astonishing, however, is the fact that the clash was streamed 'liv 'on social media, a serious breach if ever there was one.
Officers were injured in the melee, which saw prisoners clash on Tuesday with a joint task force of prison officers, soldiers, Special Operations Response Team (SORT) members, Northern Division officers and fire officers during what has been described as a riot at the remand yard.
According to prison officials, prisoners managed to break down a section of a wall, tear down part of a roof, and set portions of the facility aflame. That they were able to do all of this, while also managing to marshal the use of communication devices that are supposed to be contraband, is completely unacceptable and calls for prison authorities to answer.
The question of whether prisons have an adequate policy to deal with covid19, while not entirely unrelated given the grouse of the rioters, is nonetheless separate from the worrying collapse of order within the overall architecture of the system. This breakdown should never have happened.
The incident is a reminder of the danger of mass hysteria. Prisoners, on remand and therefore innocent unless proven guilty, could have been crushed in the chaos, the fire could have grown out of control, and instead of people being injured they could have died. We commend the authorities for getting a grip on things and for their deployment of non-lethal force.
But this riot must be thoroughly investigated by the inspector of prisons, the Ministry of National Security as well as law enforcement authorities. That investigation should be swift, and its findings cannot be left on a shelf to gather dust in perpetuity or trapped in a quagmire of public sector bureaucracy, the way previous prison incidents reports have gone.
Proximity to the Maximum Security Prison is also worrying. A disturbance in one facility could well have implications for others, so the State needs to be vigilant. The last thing we need now is to go the way of some Latin American countries, such as Brazil, where riots in the last few years have seen prisoners brutally killed.
Prisoners are entitled to proper medical treatment. And they have a right to be housed in proper facilities. In terms of the latter, there is no question our prisons have often been deficient. But covid19 follows a long line of health risks to which the system has become attuned, such as tuberculosis.
Acting Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan has outlined covid19 measures which his men have implemented, but he cannot ignore the mental health of inmates as well which, in the end, might prove more dangerous than the coronavirus.