Alternative sentencing for young offenders coming
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Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence

WITH the impending arrival at the Social Protection Ministry of a new department catering to issues of youth, such as juvenile delinquency, alternative sentencing for youth criminal offenders could become mainstreamed, once offenders are not found to be grave violators of Guyana’s Criminal Law (Offences) Act.At an end-of-year press conference held by Social Protection Ministry (MSP) officials, including subject Minister Volda Lawrence, Chief Probation and Social Services Officer Gavin Munroe made this disclosure and noted that the move comes as the MSP revisits the issue of custodial sentencing for youths involved in criminal activities.

“We want to look at three aspects of justice within society: security, rehabilitation, and reintegration of persons who might be placed before the court,” he disclosed.

Munroe said the move would allow “first offenders and persons charged with not-so-grave offences against the Criminal Offences Act” to be placed on probation.

Since coming into office, subject minister Volda Lawrence has been engaged in reshuffling and restructuring the Ministry of Social Protection (MSP) to improve its operation relative to what had obtained under the previous administration. Munroe’s office is part of that structural change.

Ministry officials have said that, in 2005, there had been a linking of the probation and family welfare agency with the social security department.

“There has been an increase in the volume of social problems, and we want to ensure that we have a comparable response from the department in dealing with these issues within society,” officials have said.

Further restructuring will see the youth development section of the department dealing with issues pertaining to families, “because we recognise that you just cannot divorce issues pertaining to children [and youth] from the families,” Munroe noted.

Even with the New Opportunity Corps (NOC), which operates under the Public Security Ministry, grappling with its own institutional shortcomings — which have been subject to public scrutiny after the David Granger Administration took office last May — Public Security Ministry officials have said their function is not confined to looking at reducing the number of students — offenders under 18 years — entering the NOC.

ASSESSMENT
Asked about concerns at the institution being addressed, the MPS’s Chief Probation Officer said that while there are systems being put in place, an assessment has been done by an official within his department, and recommendations have been submitted.

Munroe has said that, between January 2014 and June 2015, his department had engaged some 400 youths, with 250 of them being placed into probation, in keeping with Guyana’s Probation of Offenders Act.

With the pending introduction of Guyana’s National Youth Policy, which is still in draft form, some are hopeful that the policy will touch on at-risk youth and youth in trouble with the law.

Asked to respond to whether his agency has had any input in the draft of the policy piloted by the Education Ministry, Munroe said the assistant chief of his department had been actively involved in those consultations.

Munroe could not specify, during the end-of-year press conference, what areas of input his second-in-command would have made, but he has said that whatever comes out of the policy, his department is ready to support it.

The Assistant Chief Probation Officer could not be contacted, because she is on leave until later this month, according to a MSP official. Munroe did say, however, that his agency has been doing work on the ground, and in terms of actualising the policy when it is approved. “Whatever may come of the draft, whatever may be established, whatever may be legislated, our department has already put systems in place so that, whatever is legislated [or] formalised, we can hit the road running,” he said.

As a Cabinet member, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence was asked whether the policy had reached that level. “Not that I recall,” she responded, adding: “There is a sub-committee at Cabinet, so the draft can be at Cabinet but in a sub-committee.”

Minister Lawrence has said that when that sub-committee is finished with its work, “then it comes to Cabinet with the observations that the sub-committee would’ve made.”

By Derwayne Wills

 

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