In the coming days, 11 incarcerated mothers will be reunited with their families, President David Granger announced on Friday, while reiterating that this is part of government’s efforts to give those convicted for non-violent offences a second chance.
“My emphasis is on mothers first and also parents of young children. I want them to be home for Christmas. Those are the persons who would have been sentenced for non-violent offences and offences which do not involve trafficking in persons or trafficking in narcotics,” he said during a recording of the ‘The Public’s Interest’ programme at the Ministry of Presidency.
He informed that in what could be the start of a “new tradition,” 11 women have been identified to be released from jail, hopefully by tomorrow. All women prisoners are held at a single facility in Berbice.
He described this latest move as an “act of compassion” adding, “I know there have been some lawyers who have criticized the decision but I am entitled to some compassion at Christmas time.”
In May, shortly after taking the oath of office, Granger told members of the media that youths convicted of non-violent crimes would be pardoned. It was later revealed that they were to be incorporated into a special reform programme.
There were mixed reaction to this and the government has been criticized for keeping the identities of those released and the offences they were convicted of a secret.
A total of 60 convicts between the ages of 15 and 25 were identified for release but the figure was subsequently reduced to approximately 40. By mid-June, they had all been released.
Granger told reporters last Friday that government is in collaborative efforts with one person who has started a rehabilitation programme and “we hope young people who commit those offences once they are released from prison would be allowed to attend those courses and be fully reintegrated into society.”
Responding to a question on what happens to the victims of the crimes for which these persons are being pardoned, Granger said he did not believe that someone should be damned forever for stealing a cellular phone. He said that such actions would stay with a person forever, particularly when they go to apply for a job. “I do believe in forgiveness. I do believe that some young people might have made a mistake out of greed, out of poor upbringing or some other reason but I don’t think that it is something that should jeopardize the rest of his life.”
He expressed the view that if a person remains in jail too long he or she will become “repetitive offenders,” whereas if given a change he or she will have an opportunity to “make a turnaround” and follow a useful career.
Asked what happens if one don’t make good use of this opportunity, the President that that is one of the chances that his government is prepared to take. “A lot of people go to prison and never get reformed,” he said noting that the prison system would try to rehabilitate these prisoners. “It’s a chance we have to take. We have to work on them and ensure that there are opportunities for employment and opportunities for self-improvement.”
He said the reform programmes in the prison system are mostly educational.
Those prisoners who return to prison after being released, will “become ineligible in my eyes for release again,” he said. “I have written… to the Minister of Legal Affairs and he is my main advisor on legal matters and when you have repeat offenders they become ineligible for further releases.”
Asked if he plans to continue to release youth convicts in the New Year, he responded in the affirmative. “Indeed. I have said repeatedly that young persons belong in college and schools and universities and not in jail. I have laid down criteria. I received advice from the Minister of Legal Affairs. It is not arbitrary or whimsical on my part. I get advice and we hope to ensure that when the young persons—boys and girls—are released from jail they get an opportunity to attend some rehabilitative training so that they don’t…go to jail again,” he said.
He reiterated that he did see the reasoning behind sending a 19-year-old to jail for 14 months for stealing a cellular phone. “I know there are other factors but I intend to do this every Christmas for women, particularly mothers, and every Independence Day for young persons,” he said.
Based on what this newspaper has gathered thus far, the youth from the first batch of pardoned prisoners were placed in various training programmes including USAID’s Skills and Know-ledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Project.