140 prisoners test positive for COVID-19

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Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn during a recent visit to the Lusignan Prison

…infected prisoners being moved to alternative locations
…570 prisoners previously lying very close to each other

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, confirmed on Tuesday that 140 prisons have tested positive for coronavirus at the Lusignan Prison. Eighty of these prisoners have been transported to a location in Madewini and are being guarded by members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the prison.

Benn disclosed this  information in the National Assembly where he responded to a string of Oral Questions posed by Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and former Magistrate, Geeta Chandan- Edmond.

When the numbers were below 100, Chandan- Edmond had put forward to Benn that several prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19 but there is no clarity on whether the requisite measures were being implemented in keeping with the World Health Organization/PAHO guidelines for social distancing. There are just below 1,000 prisoners at the facility.

Benn said that since the rise in COVID-19 cases at the Lusignan Prison, visits were conducted and it was found that there are congestion issues. He said that efforts were being made to address these by increasing the number of beds and enforcing physical distancing guidelines when unrest broke out. The unrest, which occurred at the Lusignan Prison on Saturday, September 19, 2020, led to the death of two prisoners while five others were injured. The Prisoners were agitated about the presence of the virus in the confined area.

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Since then, efforts to ensure physical distancing have recommenced and some prisoners have been transported to a new location. “At the very time that the incident happened at Lusignan we were expanding an area to the East of the Lusignan Prison to put up tents and put in place cots and new beds for social distancing in relation to those who would have been left behind. That work was partially stopped as a result of the events on Saturday, it was resumed yesterday morning, it is on the way and I anticipate that by tomorrow, we will be in a better position to move some of those prisoners that are in the holding bay over to that area and perhaps to bring back the infected ones to Lusignan,” Benn told the House.

He said that the Ministry is taking active steps to create spaces that are secure and safe, not only for prisoners but for the public. He informed the MPs that the Health Ministry has also provided masks, washing materials and fluids to the prison.
Unsatisfied with the responses, Opposition MP, Dr. Nicolette Henry rose to ask that Minister Benn having acknowledged the severe risk of COVID-19 in the prison state what preventative measures are being put in place at other facilities countrywide. She wanted to know too whether the efforts would maintain the health, safety and human dignity of the detainees and the officers at the facilities.

Benn told the MP that he had previously addressed the matter but clarified that all prisons, not just Lusignan, have been provided with facemasks, washing materials and fluids.

Coming to Benn’s defence, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Government, Gail Teixeira asked that he speak to the visit of a team from the United Nations (UN) to the Lusignan Prison in 2018 which had since then  recommended that the prison be closed due to its inefficiencies. Benn agreed that the prison was indeed condemned.

He said that prior to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) taking up Office, the Lusignan Prison was affected by congestion due the transfer of prisoners after the Camp Street Prison fire and another fire at a building at the Lusignan Prison.

“We have over 570 prisoners who were lying very close to each other and three days after I became a Minister I visited that prison, I identified the problems there and we set about putting in place plans for immediate facilities to expand the separation between the prisoners and to reduce the congestion,” he said.

“We have already allocated funds and taken steps to deal with the matter even now and before this [unrest] happened, and we intend to have a new and modern facility for prisoners at Lusignan.”



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