THE United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a recent report has suggested the use of rehabilitation programmes to help reduce the high prison population in Guyana.
In the report, ‘Caribbean Justice Report: A Needs Assessment Of The Judicial System in Nine Countries’ the UNDP highlighted that there is a lack of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the country which sees matters being settled in a cheaper and faster way without resorting to the courts.
Such a resolution the UNDP stated, will welcome a third party that will assist individuals who commit petty crimes to work through their disputes which can be settled without public trial and offer better rehabilitation and promising results than prison time.
Additionally, the report stated that Guyana has been heavily dependent on custodial sentencing, particularly for persons charged with petty offenses. Those offenses include non-violent and petty crimes including minor drug possession, petty theft, traffic infractions, among other things that contributed to the increase in Guyana’s prison population.
The UNDP report also specified that there are five prison facilities in Guyana where more than 2,000 inmates were being housed up to the end of 2019. These facilities are all overcrowded which resulted the deadly fire at the main prison at Camp Street in 2017.
Nevertheless, in light of expansions at the Mazaruni Prison in Region Seven which is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, the UNDP said it still believes that rehabilitation is necessary for lowering the prison populations and improving accommodation.
The UNDP has since recommended the use of rehabilitation programmes, which promotes re-integration into society. These programmes may include vocational workshops (that teach vital trade skills), soft skills, and follow-ups by parole officers to ensure that relapses are minimised.
The report recommended that Guyana decriminalise certain offences such as possession of small amounts of narcotics which has been taken into consideration
The organisation also said that based on their observations, promising results were shown with the use of this system even though there were cases of relapse.
Based on Guyana Prison Service report, in 2017 some 254 males and 11 females relapsed into the prison system. In 2018, there were 306 males and 19 females while last year, 197 males and four females. An earlier IDB support for the Criminal Justice System Project document notes that custodial sentences for persons charged with non-violent and petty offences increase the prison population. It was indicated that the majority of these cases stemmed from having little to no proper reintegration programme into society.