by Scot Waide – EM TV News, Lae
A confidential Correctional Service (CS) investigation report obtained by EMTV News has highlighted security breaches, overcrowding, low morale and absenteeism among causes of two previous mass breakouts at Lae’s Buimo Prison.
The relatively detailed report was produced for the CS command by an internal investigation team after a total of 79 adult and juvenile prisoners escaped in two successive prison breakouts in June and July last year.
The investigators established that intelligence was received by the prison command that there was going to be a breakout. However, CS establishment failed to tighten security to prevent it.
“…they knew about the breakout threat, and [were] warned to be on alert. But they all failed to tighten up the security of the prison, when two separate breakouts eventuated…”
It has also been revealed that after the first escape of 68 adult prisoners, appropriate security measures were still implemented. The investigators found that during the second escape involving 11 juveniles, the officer on duty was absent and that there was nobody manning the juvenile compound.
The first half the report focuses on internal problems at the prison that include poor command and control, poor discipline and promotion related dissatisfaction amongst warders.
The latter portion of the report identifies key factors that contributed to the prison breakouts last year. Sources within the correctional services, point out that most of the recommendations were never acted upon and that the situation remained the same until the mass breakout last Thursday (25th February) which resulted in 11 prisoners shot dead by police and CS officers.
Since the turn of the century, there have been increasing concerns about the capacity of the prison. Buimo was built in the colonial era when Australia governed the territory. Over the last four decades, the prison has seen very little in terms of infrastructure improvements. The current prison facility is designed to hold up to 300. But it currently houses more than 700 inmates who are guarded by up to three armed prison officers each day.
Speaking to EMTV News in 2014, the Jail Commander, Judy Tara, said the prison was in desperate need of a perimeter fencing. Apart from the internal prison compound fence, there is little else to reduce the risk of escape.
The report quoted one senior officer saying: “…It is very difficult to manage. The old facilities were built many years [ago] and cannot adequately cater for the security needs for today.
“A juvenile detainee who climbs over the security fence at the juvenile wing is already outside the prison facility as there is no boundary fence.”
The problems at Buimo prison extend beyond the prison compound. The prison breakouts are a symptom of a much larger concern. With a growing population of more than 400 thousand people and the high crime rate in Lae City, the court system is overwhelmed with the offenders. The prisoners held in remand sometimes have to wait for up to nine months before they appear for mention.
The prison has also cut back on rehabilitation programs and its weak parole system offers little alternative for those being held in custody for long periods.