On March 20th, 2017 a letter of mine captioned ‘Michael Carrington’s marijuana Bill should be looked at again’ was published by Stabroek News.
I mentioned that in addition to the creation of social problems and pressures on families, and in addition to the criminalising of so many youths, the mandatory sentencing for possession is overcrowding the jails, the consequences of which we are experiencing even as I write.
I am once again appealing to Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who complained about overcrowded prisons and who blamed this on the crisis that resulted, to act speedily to have Carrington’s Bill debated in Parliament.
In addition, there is an immediate need to do something re the issue of bail. One young man was in a fight and the police placed him on $20,000 bail; he appeared in court with his father. He was then placed on $50,000 bail. The family borrowed the money to bail the young man. Had they been unable to do so the young man would have been placed in jail. Why could the bail not have remained at the $20,000?
In another case a young man drove his friend’s car and was involved in an accident. No one was injured. The fitness had expired and he did not have his licence with him nor the slip from GRA as his licence was in for renewal. He was given $20,000 each for dangerous driving (the police like this, never careless driving), fitness, no licence and breach of insurance, total $80,000. I wonder how many are on remand for the inability to raise the bail?
Let’s say a person was found guilty and fined $100,000, and it’s usually x amount of money or x months in jail, and he does not have the money; it’s imprisonment, increasing the overcrowding.
These people as a result of imprisonment lose the little work they have. Can’t we have alternative punishment, like community service. Let them clean the drains in the afternoons and at weekends. How about if the person is sent to jail in a way that allows him to go to work and report to the prison after work and during the weekend?
The reality is that it is the economically marginalised, the poor people, who end up in jail because of the inability to post bail or pay fines.
Years ago I wrote a letter in relation to the overcrowded prison as this is definitely not a recent development. I suggested that as we do not have the finance for a maximum security prison, the government should build a low security prison. It should have attached to it a state farm where they could work, earn money and produce to supply the prison system, thus saving the taxpayers money.
The problem in Guyana is that our politicians seldom pay attention to ideas that are not generated within their tight circle, and generally instead of listening they would move to a lengthy defence of whatever they are doing.
In closing I would like to suggest that we swear in a few judges whose task is to deal with traffic offences. The accused appears before these judges and the judges hear the issues from various sides and rule. Too often traffic offences occupy the courts and a number of persons for too long. I have known cases to drag on for over a year with the case being put off to another and yet another date. This clogs up the system.
I strongly believe that we need to act to creatively transform our judicial system, especially with regard to small offences, and some system should be put in place to prevent poor people from being incarcerated simply because they are too poor to post bail. Similarly there should be some way to prevent the imprisonment of our sons for minor offences simply because they are too poor to pay the fines.
The Prime Minister and Minister Ramjattan should save our youths, and empathise with the poor. They should move swiftly to reform the judicial system.
It is my belief that we have a number of young and inexperienced magistrates. I am calling on the government to set up some kind of judicial tribunal to which appeals can be made by those convicted of non-felonious crimes. Of course rules would be set to limit the floodgates.
Maybe some of my suggestions are not feasible but there are enough questions to force a speedy re-examination of our present system.