ATTORNEY GENERAL and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, at the handing over ceremony for the Criminal Justice System Programme of the Ministry of Legal Affairs which was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), expressed concern at the overcrowding of Guyana’s prisons. He has often stated his perturbation at the disparity in sentencing practices where large numbers of offenders who should and could have been sentenced to community services are often sent to prison for lengthy durations, while multiple-time perpetrators of violent crimes, such as armed robbery and home invasions, who pose danger to society and who were apprehended with great effort by police ranks are given a figurative rap on the knuckles.
The latter instances de-motivate the police, who face censure from the public and are blamed when the freed criminals, once again let loose on a hapless society,
return to their criminal forays, oftentimes with tragic consequences for their victims.
Quoting extant circumstances and statistics, AG Nandlall related: “…programme focuses on two specific problems, namely, the over-reliance of the justice criminal system on custodial sentencing and the over-use of pre-trial detention. Recent research shows that Guyana has a prison population rate of 264 per 100,000 of the national population, which significantly surpasses the world average.
The most recent available figure at June 2019 shows that the occupancy level of the prison population is 135.05 per cent. There is persuasive evidence to suggest that the escalating incidence of incarceration is directly related to over-reliance of the criminal justice system on incarceration as an effective tool for addressing deviant conduct, Although the laws of Guyana provide sentencing options, these measures are scarcely utilised and is compounded further by the incapacity of the criminal justice system to adequately employ those alternate options.
“As the programme unfolds, it will continue to work closely with a number of stakeholders to collaboratively attain the reformation of the criminal justice system. Stakeholders include the judiciary, the magistracy, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, the Guyana Prison Service, the Guyana Police Force, and the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, among others.
“The collective inputs of these stakeholders, coupled with research and [provision of]necessities, and engendering the employ of a number of measures and activities will culminate in addressing the general problem of prison over-crowding.”
However, all the stakeholders have to be cognisant of, generally, the main contributory factors to creation of criminal characters and actions.
Substance abuse is not to be under-rated for its destructive consequences to the human psyche. The most normally moral and decent human beings are sometimes driven to desperate and deviant behaviour as a result of uncontrollable cravings; single and working parents who are unable to make adequate provisions for child-care, leaving them vulnerable to predatory elements in the society, among a multitude of other social problems which, if adequately addressed, would significantly reduce instances of criminal behaviour.
Prisons have inmates with various skills, and those with the requisite potential to learn new skills. There are kinds of possibilities whereby these skills can be utilised for prison rehabilitation and early re-integration into the wider society.
Prisoners are humans who, if properly treated and guided, with mandatory counselling and significant input into their rehabilitation, would eventually cease to be burdens on society and instead become responsible citizens contributing to the well-being of their families and the wider society, thus rendering prison over-crowding a negative feature of prison reform.