Women's Issues In Guyana

Female remand prisoners complain of poor conditions, treatment at Berbice

Posted in Judicial,Law Enforcement by wiig on March 24, 2006
Tags: , , ,

Stabroek News – September 24, 2006

Female remand prisoners on Tuesday highlighted problems affecting them at the Berbice prison when they appeared at New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Court. They pleaded for their problems to be addressed.

Magistrate Geeta Chandan gave the prisoners, who were charged with offences such as possession of cocaine, murder and abduction, new dates to return to court. But before the dates were fixed the prisoners told the Guyanese Women in Development (GUYWID) group, the probation officer and lawyers that they were being victimized by prison officers for the crimes they had allegedly committed.

“We are just remand prisoners; but they treating us as if we were already convicted,” one prisoner said. “When we object to certain things they tell us we are police property and they can’t do anything.”

The women said they suffer from medical conditions but are still ordered to perform strenuous chores, while the male prisoners hardly do anything.

One of the prisoners said she suffers from a severe back pain while another said she needed an operation for her stomach, but the officers are not allowing her to see the doctor or to have an x-ray done.

Others claim to suffer from asthma, migraine, diabetes and other complaints, “and if we refuse to do the work they would lock us up in a cell and give us bread and water.”

One woman said the officers accused her of lying about her asthmatic condition because she “does not keep blowing all the time.”

The women said medication that was given to them by doctors previously were taken away by the medex and replaced with another set, which the medex keeps. They said this upset them but when they told the medex they alleged she replied that she was “least interested.”

They also said that the food is not properly cooked and they suffer from indigestion. “They just boil the bora or boulanger in water and add salt – like ‘hogwash’ and they give us watery porridge and watery milk. Sometimes when our relatives bring anything for us they take it away and we are forced to pay a lot of money to buy items from the tuck shop,” the prisoners said.

Contacted, Director of Prisons Dale Erskine said he was hearing the complaints for the first time. But he promised to send a team to New Amsterdam soon to investigate the problems. “We are committed to treating them in a secure and humane way at the prisons. These are delicate issues and we have to work them out,” he said.

With regard to medication being taken away, he said all medication has to be approved by the medex because “at the end of the day they have to give an account for the prisoners.”

He also said prisoners are not allowed to keep medication since they may want to take an overdose. While he is not sure what hard work the prisoners are talking about, Erskine said they have to help to keep their surroundings clean.

In an invited comment Magistrate Chandan said she allowed the prisoners to share their concerns in the courtroom since “for the past couple of months whenever their cases were called they kept complaining about the conditions at the prison and the way they were being treated.”

The magistrate said she sought the intervention of prosecutor Elton Davidson who arranged for the GUYWID group and the probation officer to listen to the complaints in court.

Attorney-at-Law, John Persaud who is representing one of the prisoners said he was not aware of the details. But he said if his client is further victimized he would have to take the matter to the High Court since a person is “innocent until proven guilty.”

Two other lawyers, Motie Singh and Michael Baird expressed the view that “remand prisoners should not be considered as police or state property and should be treated better.” They urged that the matter be taken to the administration.

Members of GUYWID said, “As a woman’s group we are looking into the interest of the prisoners to see if we can advocate some changes. They need counsellors in the prison. We want to ensure that when the women leave they would be better persons.”

The group is also advocating for separate accommodation for the remand prisoners as they feel “they should not be where the convicted prisoners are.”

At the end of the court session members of GUYWID and the probation officer spoke to the prisoners individually about other matters affecting them.

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