… 1st phase to start this year – RamjattanGovernment is pushing against criticism that it did not take seriously the prison fire in 2016 and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report. There are plans for the phased construction of a four-storey prison as part of the expansion at Mazaruni, which is scheduled to start this year. Government is pushing against criticism that it did not take seriously the prison fire in 2016 and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report. There are plans for the phased construction of a four-storey prison as part of the expansion at Mazaruni, which is scheduled to start this year. According to Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, building a new prison could end up costing the Government $6B. But after the completion of the prison, design by VIKAB Engineering Consultants Ltd — the Trinidad Company involved in designing the collapsed Supenaam Stelling — the first phase of building the prison at Mazaruni will commence.“There is a criticism that we have not done anything since the Commission of Inquiry,” Ramjattan stated during a press conference on Thursday. “(But) a lot has been done since the Commission of Inquiry in March.”“We have gotten the design from Vikab, the consultant that won the design of a new prison at Mazaruni. This was given and supported by the President since the 29th June. I have (also) supported the new design. So that has started.”He stated that while it would be costly, the idea is to remove the more serious criminals to a safe place in Mazaruni, in order to deal with the overpopulation problem plaguing the prisons. Ramjattan noted that $276M were allocated for the first phase of the project, which will include constructing the concrete structure. “And then, (in) next year’s budget, more (money) will be allocated to carry it up. We want a four-storey building, but the construction will take some time. We have to now put it out to bid, as to who will build. This will be a major piece of construction. They will start as of this year.”Ramjattan noted that the construction phase is slated to last two years and cost approximately $2B. He reiterated that the price tag attached to constructing an entirely new prison is $6B, money the Government presently does not have. He also spoke of the modernisation aspect of the prisons. “The modernisation of our prison system was also a consultancy that was awarded to Trevor Hamilton and Associates, international management consultants. The first question that was asked was selecting one from five options. Whether we privatise the prison system, whether we regionalise it, a combination of both, or keep it in state hands with a board of governors,” the minister revealed.Ramjattan revealed that Government has opted for keeping the prison system under State control and have a Board of Governors to oversee operations, besides having an Executive Director of Prisons. At present, Gladwin Samuels holds the post of Director of Prisons. “We have now furthered that governance structure along with the amendments that governance structure will cater for. (Retired Caribbean Court of Justice Judge) Duke Pollard is the lawyer that is working towards getting the amendments of our prison act to accommodate the modernisation of the GPS as a result of the consultancy we got done by Trevor Hamilton, the Jamaican expert.“So it is not as if we just sat back and did nothing. A lot was being done. All of these things, however, cost a lot of money, and we have to take care also of the consultants and the lawyers. So I just want to make that clear: lots of work was being done to have a safer and more secure place for our prisoners.”Last year March, a fire had raged through the Camp Street Prison and claimed the lives of 17 prisoners. Afterwards, a Commission of Inquiry which cost the treasury some $13M was ordered by President David Granger.According to the report compiled by the commissioners, the combination of being overcrowded, being uncomfortable, and providing unhygienic confinement created ideal conditions for epidemics and for gangs to prosper and propagate discontent.Moreover, the CoI found that reducing numbers in prison to manageable levels is the single most important priority for establishing safe, humane and purposeful prisons.It was further noted that repeat offenders have increased by over 100%, “indicating not only a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, but also the need for a more comprehensive and structured partnership within the wider justice system.”But despite these recommendations, the Director of Prisons himself confirmed that at the time of the fire which gutted Camp Street prison on Sunday, over 1000 prisoners were being housed at the prison. Camp Street Prison was originally built to house nearly half that number.