PNG jail break deaths blamed on overcrowding and staff shortages

PAPUA New Guinea’s Correctional Services has blamed overcrowding and a lack of manpower for the shooting deaths of 17 prisoners during a mass breakout.

The men were among 77 prisoners who last week broke out of Buimo Jail near Lae, the country’s second largest city.

Police recaptured three other escapees, and have mounted an operation to recapture the others.

Correctional Services is still waiting for funding to send a team of investigators to the jail.

In a statement, Correctional Services Commissioner Michael Waipo said the facility can only safely house 500 prisoners, but currently holds 900.

He said 70 per cent of the prisoners are on remand.

“At the same time, the courts are backlogged. This waiting period frustrates the remandees and some resort to escaping from custody.

“We are not trying to shift the blame away from us but ask for understanding so as to help us do our mandated role with the resources we have in the tough economic times our nation is currently feeling.”

Commissioner Waipo said Papua New Guinea’s jails were critically understaffed, and described the ratio of detainees to staff as ‘very bad’ due to a freeze on recruitment.

“Instead of 1:3, it is 1:100 in a shift roster,” he said.

Last year, 12 prisoners were shot and killed when 94 men escaped from the same prison.

Police and Correctional Services promised to investigate those killings, but neither have announced any progress since.

International human rights organisations condemned the killings and called for an independent investigation.