Gov’t to revamp outdated mental health laws to address prison overcrowding


Efforts are underway to update Guyana’s “completely outmoded” mental health legislation, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, announced on Wednesday.

“We are revamping all of our archaic laws, integral to that is a revamp of the Mental Health Act,” Nandlall said while speaking to reporters at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) where a review of the Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme (SCJS) was being conducted.

According to the Attorney General, the Mental Health Act in its current form is completely out of sync with reality and science.

“We do have a serious mental health issue which we don’t recognise as a problem in society,” he added.

Nandlall said revamping the law has become even more necessary as an achievement to be attained under SCJS where the issue of incarcerating mentally ill people without the necessary help can no longer be encouraged.

“One of the objective [of SCJS] is to reduce the prison population and one way of doing that is to address the mental health issue,” he noted.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC, delivering remarks at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) where a review of the Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme is being conducted (Photo: August 25, 2021)

Nandlall said a draft of an Amendment Bill is currently with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel with consultations ongoing with the Bar Association and the Judiciary.

He noted that as a result of some misgivings from stakeholders, another consultant was asked to draft another Bill which will be circulated soon to stakeholders for review.

The Attorney General anticipates that the Bill will be ready for the National Assembly when the session resumes in October.

“We hope that the Bill will receive the endorsement of important stakeholders like the Bar Association… this will hopefully address a lot of the issues causing concern,” Nandlall said.

Already, Nandlall said, persons working in psychiatry at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) are being engaged to design a programme which will then be adopted by members of the judiciary and the Guyana Prison Service so that persons in the penal system who require mental health assistance can access such services readily and in a systematic way.

“Right now we have a situation where Magistrates are making orders directing persons be lodged at the mental hospital but the mental hospital seems not to be able to have the capacity to deal with that load of persons deposited there by orders of the court and we have to address that situation too,” the Attorney General emphasised.

Nandlall said this is not a one-off intervention and he hopes that through the revamping of the mental health laws these issues can be addressed.

He said the reality is that many convicts with mental illness are sent to prison without being treated and as a result, their mental health worsens when they are released.

“… and it’s a vicious cycle that ends in death.”

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