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23 Escape from Wackenhut Prison in Caribbean

23 Escape From Wackenhut Prison in Caribbean

by Gary Hunter

A rash of escapes have fueled investigations into negligence and possible corruption at a Wackenhut prison. In less than two months, 23 prisoners have escaped from Curacao's Koraal Specht prison in Netherlands Antilles. On March 24, 2001, six prisoners escaped from a newly constructed housing unit. Less than three weeks later, on April 9th, five more prisoners sawed their way to freedom through cellblock shutter vents. Then, exactly one month to the day, a dozen more prisoners escaped.

Suspicious circumstances surrounded the escapes from the beginning. The first escape was clearly accomplished with outside assistance. Using temporary stairs built for use on the construction site, intruders covertly entered the prison grounds from the outside and forced open an emergency exit with a crowbar. To give the door the appearance of being secure the intruders wedged the door shut with concrete blocks. The ruse was successful. The intruders entered and left the grounds unnoticed and the open door escaped detection by patrolling guards. During the next shift, when prisoners were allowed to leave their cells, six of those prisoners successfully escaped through the door.

This blatant lapse in security has prompted calls for the resignation of Dr. R. Martha, minister of justice. For his own part, Dr. Martha has called for a "thorough investigation at all levels."

Two things immediately raised the eyebrows of investigators. First, since it is the responsibility of the guards on each shift to check the doors, there is no way that the jimmied door should have escaped detection. Second, the obvious ease with which the intruders gained access to the prison indicated a lapse in perimeter security.

The firm of Atelier, Lobo and Rayman issued a report titled Correctional Facility Koraal Specht: Special Report on Security Issues , just after the first escapes. The report, dated April 12, 2001, accused Wackenhut of negligence "on important security issues both as the designer and the main contractor of the extension." They went on to say that "the fact that the escape ... could happen in such an easy way proves that the facility is not secure enough to be considered a safe prison."

The report is extremely damaging to Wackenhut because in the original contract they agreed that "WCC can be held responsible if the facility as a whole or its components in particular prove not to be reasonably failsafe." In spite of pleas from Contract Management that security during construction be a priority, an investigation showed that WCC continued to be negligent in at least six areas.

One of the more blatant violations included a chain link fence that composed the only perimeter security. The Dutch standard for perimeter security consists of a 5-meter concrete wall topped with detection wire and cameras, and a chain link fence between the wall and building. Corroded cell fronts and louvers provided additional security concerns. And even after the initial escape of six prisoners, unsupervised WCC construction workers continued to work with cutting tools next to the fence. To further exacerbate security concerns, WCC also failed to extend a patrol road completely around the perimeter of the facility.

Spurred by the initial escape, Wackenhut's director, John Hunter, says that a network of prisoner informants is now in use. Along with exposing the normal infractions incurred by prisoners, this network has also led the Prosecutor General's staff to investigate possible staff corruption. Hunter goes on to say that "I believe [the prisoners] perceive their chances of carrying out illegal activities greatly reduced as they move to new and more easily managed accommodations." This is probably true. It would explain why immediately after the investigation 17 more prisoners escaped.

Source: Prison Privatization Report International

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