Guyana’s President David Granger.
Associated Press / Joedson Alves

Some businesses in the city and coastal areas are shutting up shop earlier than usual after police at mid week revised official figures from five to eight as to the number of inmates who broke out from the city’s main maximum security prison on Sunday before setting fire to facility completely destroying it.

While authorities say they are now confident that only eight are on the run, unease in the business community is growing largely because officials have admitted that they are uncertain about the identities of four of the eight and even whether it is in fact only eight.

This has triggered doubts about the exact number of those missing from a roll call of 1,080 who were housed in the mainly wooden buildings when inmates took control Sunday evening. It was built during the British colonial era to house no more than 500. When bedlam erupted on a quiet and sunny Sunday afternoon, there was twice that number crammed into the heavily overcrowded facility in the heart of the city.

The umbrella private sector commission at mid week gave a hint to the mindset of some of its members casting doubts about whether authorities are on top of the situation in the evening hours after Sunday.

“We urge the authorities to publish the true and accurate count of prisoners held prior to the incident, the amount transferred and the unaccounted prisoners. The lack of accurate official information has created much room for speculation and is fueling fear in our society,” the body said, echoing complaints from newspaper letter writers and critics on social media.

The breakout and subsequent fire destruction of the entire complex of buildings was the worst of the kind in living memory and one of the worst in the Caribbean Community group of nations. It also came 17 months after inmates had embarked on a mutiny to highlight long trial delays, overcrowding, poor quality food and other ills. As expected, the fires eventually got out of control, killing 17. Nearly a dozen others were injured, while several wardens were also hospitalized.

As the jail breakers were leaving the facility on Sunday, they shot and killed Warden Odinga Wickham and seriously injured at least six other officers. The breakout immediately brought back memories of a carnival day 2002 when four inmates also shot and killed a warden and crippled another. They then slipped into the coastal community of Buxton and helped to spawn gangs that had terrorized the country. Police recorded more than 150 killings that year. Early reports also indicate that the men are hiding out in the village, about nine miles east of the city.

In the meantime, President David Granger took his entire cabinet to the burned out facility on Tuesday and declared that authorities have no intention of rebuilding a full and complete prison at the same site.

The announcement was sweet music to the ears of nearby residents and businesses as many had closed after police had sealed off main access streets after previous breakouts or threats of similar action and had long called from the main jailhouse to be moved out of the city.

Authorities have since shuttled about 150 of the worst inmates to the Mazaruni Prisons at a river town in western Guyana and have as well shunted the remainder to a poorly constructed coastal facility, incidentally near Buxton Village.

In recent days, soldiers, police and prison wardens have been forced to fire warning shots at inmates to keep them from escaping from the minimum security facility that is now being reinforced to cater for the bad boys. Magistrates are also reviewing bail for misdemeanor offences and those with a few months to go on sentences are being released to ease overcrowding.

And not done in having its say on the situation, the private sector body urged authorities to move with speed to address inmate concerns.

“We note that the deterioration of the prison system was not paid enough attention to by our political leaders generally over time. The PSC and its affiliates have followed with disappointment the slow pace of addressing and implementing measures to mitigate the results of a slow court system, the mixing of remand and other prisoners with serious crime prisoners and other causal factors that has placed us where we are with regards to prison management.”

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