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October 23, 2021
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Buimo prison: Ingredients for escape still exist 8 months on

On the evening of February 25,  a convoy of  police and correctional service vehicles,  with sirens blaring,  drove into the rear gate of  the Angau Hospital  in Lae.

On board some of the vehicles were the bodies of 12 prisoners who had been shot dead  during an escape that had been planned for several months.

During the escape, two prison officers  were injured as  more than 80 prisoners dashed for freedom.

The  killing of a dozen prisoners by  law enforcement authorities,  drew widespread international media coverage and  caused some outrage on  social media.   But days later, the concerns over  what some viewed as extrajudicial killings faded into  apparent insignificance as people settled into their daily routines.

But prison insiders  and senior prison officers  continue to point out that the  February escape  was  the result of ongoing protests over food rations  and the general state of   conditions inside the Buimo prison.

“We raised concerns about prisoners getting sick because of unsanitary conditions,” said Lengtry Kintau, a former prisoner who was released this year after serving nine years for armed robbery.  “The responses were not always favorable.”

Kintau, who is now studying for a masters degree in communications at the University of Technology in Lae, has become a voice for prisoners who are unable to speak  out  for themselves.

“There are many other  issues affecting prisoners.  The monthly visits by judges don’t happen as often as they should so there is a great deal of uncertainty about  the  future.”

On the morning of the prison escape,  The  Member of Parliament for Lae , Loujaya Kouza,  was  in a meeting with the Acting jail  commander, Superintendent Judy Tara.

“The rest of the information I was getting that morning were fears being spoken out,” said Kouza.  “…The fact that they (the prisoners) are not eating properly and  sleeping properly are reasons enough  to break out.”

The main priority identified   in hours before the breakout  was the  need to construct a perimeter fence around the  prison compound.    When Kouza left the prison compound after the meeting. The breakout occurred.

But the topic of the  perimeter fence isn’t  new.

In 2015,  two prison  breakouts – one by  adult prisoners and the other by juveniles –  also prompted an investigation. The  investigation  report  contained a statement by the Acting jail commander, Superintendent  Judy Tara.

“There is no boundary fence for all the detainees’ compound facility at the Jail and  therefore it is very difficult to manage,” Tara  said in the report.

“The old facilities were built many years ago  and cannot adequately cater for the security needs of today.

“A juvenile detainee who climbs over its security fence at the juvenile wing is already outside the prison facility as there is no boundary fence.”

Since February,   the important  discussions  about the prison perimeter fence  which took prominence days after the escape have  faded yet again just like the  shock and horror of the killings  of the 12  prisoners.

What  appeared  to have happened is a break down of communication between   civilian authorities, the prison command and  Correctional Service Headquarters with no firm funding commitment made by political heads.

According to the CS Commissioner,  Michael Waipo,  the Morobe  Governor, had made a commitment to fund the construction of the perimeter fence.  The Morobe Governor in a recent news conference indicated  the funding request had not come to his attention.

Eight months since  law enforcement authorities shot and killed 12 prisoners during an escape,   the perimeter fence that can prevent  new breakouts  and the unnecessary deaths, still has not been built and   the ingredients for another prison escape still exist.

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