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Chaos as prisoners break out, flatten city’s main jailhouse

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana — For the second time in 17 months, inmates at Guyana’s main prison facility took control of the system, this time facilitating the escape of five of their number and burning all but one of the jail blocks and an officer’s staff club to the groundon Sunday, July 9.

Saying in March of last year that they were angry at long court delays for remand prisoners, poor quality food, overcrowding and the fact that authorities had the audacity to periodically seize their mobile phones and other devices, back then they set fire to beds burning alive 17 comrades and injuring several officers.

This time they shot and killed Officer Odinga Wickham, seriously injured more than half a dozen guards and razed the colonial era compound in the heart of the city to the ground. Only a recently constructed concrete building withstood the late Sunday fire but the second strike by inmates in less than two years has left authorities jaded and forced to cope with some very serious challenges.

The major one is where would the prison administration house more than 1,000 inmates who were at the Camp Street jail when fire struck. Authorities quickly moved most to another facility on the country’s east coast late Sunday but there was no way that the center that houses mostly those on the last leg of their sentences had facilities to cope. The jailhouse was built during the British era to house about 500. It had double the amount when prisoners struck

The result is that more than 150 were being sent to the Mazaruni Prison system in the heart of Guyana’s western jungles, while officials rushed to clean up the lone cement cell block that had withstood more than five hours of burning flames to house the most hardened of the convicts.

While officials were holding a series of emergency meetings on Monday in the aftermath of Sunday’s daring prisoners strike, firemen were combing through the rubble looking for any inmates who might have perished as well as the cache of rifles and handguns used by wardens but abandoned when bedlam broke out.

“This is not a very nice situation. It is a crisis situation,” Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan said, noting that authorities had considered schools and other buildings but feared they would have burned these to the ground too as they did with the cell blocks and the officers club where they also raided the bar, had a good time then thought it best to simply set it afire once they had had enough merriment.

Authorities have launched a manhunt for three men still on the run including suspected mastermind Mark Durant who was earlier this year sentenced to death by hanging for mass murder. The breakout brought back fears of carnival day in 2002 when four men killed a guard, crippled another and helped to spawn gangs that menaced the country. More than 150 people died that year.

Durant was a member of a gang that had terrorized the country during the period. He was convicted for the mass murder of nearly a dozen people at a western river town. He is believed to be armed and officials think the fires were set as a distraction for him and the others to escape.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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