Gov’t still ‘wrestling’ with reform in prisons – Benn

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The government continues to “wrestle” with their plans to improve the living conditions of prisoners which will pave the way for the successful reintegration of inmates into society.

While there have been efforts to reform prisons in Guyana, Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn on Thursday said more permanent changes need to be put in place.

“We are still wrestling with finding the best approaches towards reforming in the prison, creating better infrastructure, there is talk about the new prisons which will now be at Lusignan building, a school for the prisoners, moving the women’s prison from new Amsterdam to that area,” Minister Benn explained during the Annual Prison Officer’s Conference on Thursday.

The conference is being held under the theme: “Working towards improving the image of the Guyana Prison Service.”

The conference will provide an opportunity to make appropriate decisions to address challenges faced in the prison service.

Director of Prisons (ag) Nicklon Elliot noted that emphasis was placed on enhancing the capacity of the prison staff with several training programmes last year. According to him, they are now better equipped to respond to the needs of the prison service.

“Notably, there was an establishment of the central operation or monitoring room at the Prison Headquarters which allowed us to view in real-time all the activities happening at all locations,” Elliot revealed.

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn (Photo: DPI/October 31, 2021)

Some of the challenges were due to the COVID pandemic, limited physical infrastructure, severe overcrowding, violence among prisoners, escapes and unprofessional conduct of staff.

To curb the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus, several safety measures were implemented to protect the prison population such as the establishment of virtual courtrooms.

“Notwithstanding these challenges, the [prison] service’s strategic plan continue to provide the framework by which the organisation sought to reposition itself by transitioning from a penal system to that of a correctional facility,” Elliot said.

The overall prison population at the end of 2021 stood at 1,889 with a recidivism rate of 9 per cent as per admission for the year and an overall 13 per cent rate.

The prison service continues to see improvements in infrastructure with the construction of new dorms at the Lusignan Prison which will accommodate over 1,000 prisoners.

Additionally, the water well at the Lusignan Prison was reactivated after being out of operation for years.

A minibus, speedboat, two ATVs, and one pickup were also procured along with the upgrading of CCTV cameras at the Prison Headquarters and other prison locations.

The Prison Director said efforts will continue to improve the conditions for prisons and create opportunities for the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Over 861 prisoners were recently trained in literacy, numeracy, vocational training, art and craft and agriculture.

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