Work started on justice project to reduce prison overcrowding

- Legal Affairs Ministry

The Ministry of Legal Affairs yesterday said it has been moving assiduously to address the overcrowding plaguing the country’s prison system and work has begun to advance the US$8 million justice system project aimed at addressing the situation.

“Since the previous prison unrest and fire on March 3, 2016 at the Georgetown Prison, the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Legal Affairs, has been assiduously moving apace to address the issue of overcrowding at the prisons,” the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

Following last Sunday’s fire and jailbreak at the Georgetown Prison on Camp Street, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has insisted that significant efforts have been made by government to implement the 70 recommendations made by the Justice James Patterson-led Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the previous fire. Observers have argued that had most of the recommendations been implemented, last Sunday’s disaster could have been avoided.

Almost 1,000 inmates were present at the time fires were set at the facility, which was built to accommodate about 600 inmates.

The CoI had recommended a number of measures to ease the numbers, including decriminalising the possession of small amounts of marijuana and establishing alternatives to incarceration for those charged.

In its statement yesterday, the Legal Affairs Ministry explained that the Government of Guyana has secured financing in the form of a US$8 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the “Support for the Criminal Justice System Project.” The project, it was explained, became eligible for funding on June 16, 2017. The key objectives of the project are reducing the use of pre-trial detention and increasing the use of alternative sentencing, the release said.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs, Supreme Court of Judicature, Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Social Protection and the Ministry of Finance, it was stated, are the main stakeholders of this project.

According to the statement, the launch of the project, scheduled for last Monday, was cancelled due to the prison disturbance. Nonetheless, it added, the project workshop was held and the key outputs discussed were: establishing a Legal Aid pilot project ,which will provide legal assistance to persons accused of minor, non-violent offenses in pre-trial detention; enhancing the capacities of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Police Prosecutors to handle their cases before they proceed to trial; building capacity enhancement at the magistracy level to expedite cases and address alternative sentencing; implementing a restorative justice pilot project under the Ministry of Legal Affairs to resolve minor offences or disputes; strengthening of the Probation Service Department to perform adequate follow up of treatments delivered in and after prison, so as to better tend to the rehabilitative needs of those who present a lesser risk of reoffending; and strengthening the Law Reform Commission at the Ministry of Legal Affairs in its role of drafting new legislations introducing non-custodial sanctions suitable for different types of offences.

Further, the statement announced that a Project Steering Committee, chaired by the Ministry of Legal Affairs, has been established to provide oversight and strategic direction for the project.

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