Jail drama

Main Stories, National

ALMOST 500 prisoners, who were angry after they were not given food for two days, broke out of Baisu jail outside Mt Hagen yesterday afternoon, but quick action by warders prevented what would have been the biggest jailbreak in PNG’s history.
A total of 487 of the total prison population of around 800 scaled the four-metre fencing that surrounds the prison compound.
They got past three layers of fencing, but armed warders who reacted quickly after the alarm was sounded, fired warning shots and managed to round up the prisoners. No one was hurt.
A dispute involving two rival suppliers, the Central Supply and Tenders Board (CSTB) and Correctional Services (CS) Commissioner Richard Sikani, appears to have led to the food shortage.
Supplier Whiskey Fresh was providing food rations to the prison until KK and Sons took over, apparently at the direction of Commissioner Sikani. The ensuing dispute has not been resolved.
The Baisu prison, which houses almost 800 prisoners including remandees, has a capacity for only 300 prisoners.
It is overcrowded and its facilities are rundown, a warder told The National yesterday. Since Sunday, the prisoners were not fed because there was no food.
Yesterday, three prisoners became weak and very ill.
Angry prisoners demanded that the duo be taken to hospital immediately.
About 2.30pm, two warders entered the prison compound to take the sick prisoners out.
The two warders were immediately overpowered by the prisoners and taken hostage.
Two other warders at the prison cell checkpoint then raised the alarm.
Prisoners and remandees headed in all direction towards the four-metre fencing surrounding their cells.
“They scaled it like it was nothing,” a warder involved in their recapture told The National.
Only two unarmed guards were posted at the prison compound.
Four of the prison’s five watch towers had been pulled down because the posts were rotten.
The fifth one was declared unsafe and is not in use.
The prisoners took advantage of this.
But warders reacted quickly when the alarm was raised.
They rushed to the armoury for firearms, took up positions on the perimeters of the prison and began firing, both in the air and at the prisoners.
The sound of gunshots had many of the prisoners hitting the dirt.
The warders then rounded up 487 of them, more than half the prison population.
Baisu jail commanding officer Chief Supt Simon Sobaim said the prisoners had tried to escape because they had gone without food since Sunday.
As a result, three prisoners became very weak and their enraged fellow prisoners then scaled the three inner compound fences and tried to escape.
Chief Supt Sobaim said this would not have happened had the ongoing ration problem been resolved.
He said warders fired shots to stop prisoners from escaping but no one was killed or injured.
He said he was thankful the prisoners surrendered when they heard the shots.
He said this would have been the biggest breakout in the country’s history had the warders failed to stop the prisoners.
Many of them were extremely dangerous criminals, the jail boss said.
Chief Supt Sobaim entered the prison compound and addressed the prisoners.
During the address, a representative of the prisoners warned that the next time they were made to go hungry, they would simply walk out and risk being shot dead.
The prisoner told Chief Supt Sobaim that while they were lawbreakers, they had a right under the law to be fed.