‘A fresh start’ – new programme to target reform of prisoners
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Director of Prisons (ag), Nicklon Elliot (right), shows the British High Commissioner to Guyana, Jane Miller (second right), one of the model houses that was designed by prisoners. Also in the photo is Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mae Toussaint Thomas (Elvin Croker photo)
Director of Prisons (ag), Nicklon Elliot (right), shows the British High Commissioner to Guyana, Jane Miller (second right), one of the model houses that was designed by prisoners. Also in the photo is Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mae Toussaint Thomas (Elvin Croker photo)

–over 300 trained in various skills

THE Ministry of Home Affairs is currently devising a programme titled ‘A Fresh Start’ aimed at bolstering the efforts undertaken to rehabilitate prisoners and to provide them with the requisite skills for their reintegration into society when they leave prison.

This was disclosed by the Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, at the Guyana Prison Service’s 38th Thanksgiving Anniversary Church Service held on Sunday under the theme ‘working towards improving the image of the Guyana Prison Service’ at the National Cultural Centre Tarmac, Hadfield Street, Georgetown.

Benn explained that the programme is aimed at providing a toolkit with the basic needs to persons who are leaving the prison system to get into a particular trade or profession of their interest such as plumbing, or carpentry.

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn (sitting centre), and British High Commissioner, Jane Miller (sitting right), relaxing in a chair set that was made by prisoners (Elvin Croker photo)

“What for persons who are suitable, eligible and willing, is to be able to pursue a type of vocation or profession which they want to return to or undertake, we want to give them the toolkits, when they are leaving, to be presented with,” Minister Benn said.

The new programme is expected to be rolled out in the new year. The Home Affairs Minister is adamant that the culture of reform out of the local prison system must be revised to move away from traditional and conventional methods and towards more rehabilitative methods so that inmates are reintegrated and can contribute to society in a meaningful way.

Also sharing brief remarks at the Thanksgiving on Sunday was Director of Prisons (ag) Nicklon Elliot, who noted that the Prison Service continues to make efforts to consolidate its institutional capacity in order to effectively deliver better quality of service to prisoners, staff, and the public.

In this regard, he said that the service utilises its Strategic Development Plan which continues to provide the framework by which the organisation seeks to reposition itself, from the penal system to that of correctional facility.

Elliot shared that some 300 prisoners were trained in Literacy and Numeracy, Behaviour Modification Programmes, Vocational Skills training, as well as Art and Craft as part of the Strategic Development Plan. This was evident on Sunday as the Thanksgiving Service also featured an exhibition of products created and designed by prisoners ranging from furniture, arts and crafts, agricultural products and even cosmetology products, which can be purchased by contacting the Prison Service.

“I just want the entire public to support the work of the prisons; the prison is not here to ridicule the public but is here to support every single Guyanese and, unfortunately, you only hear about prisons when something bad happen,” Elliot said.

Hats and bags made from recycled newspaper by prisoners on display at the exhibition during the Guyana Prison Service 38th Thanksgiving Anniversary Church Service (Elvin Croker photo)

Further, he shared that the Prison Service is currently working to roll out a programme on conflict and anger management by next week at the Lusignan Holding Bay on the East Coast of Demerara to reduce the cases of conflict among prisoners. This prison has seen its fair share of ruckus over the years, including several cases of stabbing, fighting and escapes.

The Prison Director highlighted that the administration of the Guyana Prison Service is cognisant that the staff plays an important role in the execution of the organisation’s mandate and emphasis has also been placed on ensuring that the Prison Administration is steadfast in the fulfilment of its mandate, relative to the safe custody and the rehabilitation of inmates, as well as the development of the institution.

“As a consequence, greater emphasis has been placed on enhancing the capacity of the staff. The Directorate is particularly enthusiastic about the numerous training opportunities which were provided to staff in the area of Prison Management, Human Rights, Management and Leadership.

“Notably, the Guyana Prison Service collaborated with the University of the Southern Caribbean to provide accredited training programmes for Prison Officers at all levels. It is therefore envisioned that the various training programmes would aid junior and senior staff to improve their work performance,” he added.

Prisons expansion
In terms of the infrastructure of the prisons, Minister Benn highlighted that the new holding bay being constructed at the Lusignan Prison and the expansion of the Mazaruni Prison, in Region Seven, will allow for rehabilitative efforts.

“We want that new complex at Lusignan to have educational and vocational teachings so that we will be finally, properly on the road towards rehabilitating prisoners. The new facility at Lusignan is expected to be the place where the greatest effort in that regard will be placed,” Minister Benn said.

He disclosed that a new facility at the New Amsterdam Prison, in Region Six, is expected and there are plans to move female inmates from New Amsterdam to Lusignan in order to facilitate visitation.

The expansion of the Mazaruni Prison will allow for over 200 prisoners to be accommodated there while the Lusignan expansion will allow for 800 to 1,000 prisoners, the Prison Director said.
Works at Mazaruni is currently 95 per cent complete while works at Lusignan is 30 per cent complete. Elliot predicts that the works at the various locations are expected to finish around January or February, 2022.

Meanwhile, the Prison Head emphasised that the Support for Criminal Justice System (SCJS) programme, which aims to tackle prison overcrowding, is being executed “smoothly” with the assistance of the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

He opined that the SCJS programme will have positive long-term impact in helping to reduce the overcrowding of Guyana’s Prisons.

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