NGOs and decent citizens should add their voices to a call for penal reform

Dear Editor,

The Kaieteur News article of December 11, 2012 entitled ‘Cobra transferred from Georgetown Prison after 23 months in solitary confinement‘ has got to be wrong.

Who can believe that in these days of social enlightenment that we can even conceive keeping a human being in an area smaller than many dog kennels? I am outraged that we are so barbaric as to confine prisoners to a six foot by three foot cell for almost two years. We don’t even treat dogs that way! Can you imagine the public outcry if someone was found keeping a dog locked up for two years and letting it out for just fifteen minutes a day?

According to one study, “Isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.” In fact, several international human rights treatises consider that solitary confinement “fits the definition of torture, and is therefore a violation of human rights.”  Many studies have also shown that prison isolation can result in “severe and lasting psychological damage for inmates isolated for extended periods” and places prisoners “at grave risk of even more devastating future psychological harm.”

Almost twenty years ago, Miles Fitzpatrick, Brendan de Caires and I were tasked by the then Minister of Home Affairs to look into the conditions of the Camp Street prison. What we saw was revolting, and we made several recommendations for improvement. Over the following years, several revolts by prisoners indicated that conditions had improved. A few years ago the Minister of Home Affairs was challenged on the conditions of the Brickdam lockup. His response was that prisoners could not expect the conditions of the Hilton hotel. So nothing has changed over the past twenty years.

I call on all human rights entities, churches, NGOs and all caring and decent citizens to add their voices to a call for penal reform. By treating fellow humans in the way we do at present, we define ourselves and our society as primitive and sadistic.

Regardless of their offences, prisoners are human beings and must be treated as such. This torture and violation of their human rights must stop.

Yours faithfully,
Clairmont Lye

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