Overcrowding persists as almost half of prison population are people on remand
Major improvements to Guyana’s legal sector were recorded between 2017 and 2021 but more specifically in the last 12 months under the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) funded Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme (SCJS).
During a mid-year review on Wednesday at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) the progress made under the programme was lauded by IADB Country Representative Sophie Makonnen.
The progress was also noted by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, who became involved with the almost four-year running project in August 2020.
Reporting on the progress, Project Manager and former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Indira Anandjit, said the team has been making headway in accomplishing the objectives of encouraging alternative sentencing although reducing the use of pretrial detention (remand) seems to be an uphill task.
Currently, some 45% of the persons incarcerated are on pre-trial detention or remand as it is popularly called. That figure is up from 38% in 2015 although this project is geared towards reducing that number.
However, only 9% of those incarcerated are listed as repeat offenders, down from 13% recorded in 2015 and 1.6% would account for persons on probation, up from the 0.89% recorded in 2015.
Although the figures regarding persons on remand are in stark contrast to the objections of the programme, Anandjit believes there is still much to celebrate. Among the achievements is the establishment of a legal aid clinic. Anandjit said already some 122 cases were handled with 77 completed and 57 dismissed.
There was also the establishment of the first-ever Law Reform Commission headed by Justice B.S Roy and the implementation of the first-ever integrated case management system.
Some 140 persons were also trained as certified restorative justice practitioners and another 50 senior justice practitioners trained in leadership development. Meanwhile, work is ongoing to develop a cadre of specially trained probation officers with renovations completed at the police prosecutors’ offices at Brickdam and in Berbice.
Anandjit also reported some implementation challenges where of the four pieces of legislation slated for review and revision, only two have been completed due to lengthy delays in the stakeholder review process and despite sensitization of key stakeholders, the general public is still largely unaware of the project and its direct benefits.
Guyana’s prison population rate is significantly higher than the world average. The over-reliance by the criminal justice system and the over-use of pre-trial detention contribute to prison overcrowding. In the coming months, the initiatives under the SCJS Programme will continue to seek to reduce prison over-crowding by decreasing the use of pre-trial detention and increasing the use of alternative sentencing in the country.