Nandlall: Justice system needs reshaping as prison sentences not working to deter crime

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Long prison sentences and even the death penalty have not worked in preventing criminal activity and so the criminal justice system needs to be reshaped and reformed, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall said Thursday.

Nandlall made the case for Restorative Justice as he addressed the second day of the First Legal Conference on Criminal Justice Reform – Advancing the Needham’s Point Declaration being held in Georgetown.

In his address, Attorney General Nandlall pointed out the crisis within conventional criminal justice systems in the Caribbean, noting that “criminals and violent criminal conduct are winning the battle” despite severe penalties. He stressed the need for innovative changes, stating, “If the law is to triumph over criminal conduct, there must be new and innovative changes.”

Restorative justice, although relatively new to the Caribbean, has been practiced globally for nearly five decades. The United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice has recognized it as a crucial mechanism for criminal justice reform, recommending its adoption by member states since 2005.

Nandlall referenced a presenter at the forum who asserted, “Restorative justice has become a global phenomenon in criminal justice systems. Resonating with and in some cases drawing from indigenous conceptions of justice, it offers both an alternative understanding of crime and new ways of responding to it.”

He said novel concepts such as restorative justice have emerged because the traditional systems of punishment have simply not worked.

“History and experience have taught us that punitive sanctions are not the solution. We have tried protracted custodial sentences, we have tried the death penalty, we have tried the cat o’ nine tails, we have tried hard labour, we have tried solitary confinement but what is the result? Has there been a reduction in crime? Were these punitive sanctions a deterrent? The answer is no,” Nandlall stated.

He added that “the harsh and inconvenient truth is that despite the use of these severe penalties, crime has not only increased but has increased to unprecedented levels.”

This reality underscores the necessity for alternative approaches like restorative justice, which shifts the focus from punishment to rehabilitation and reintegration.

Restorative justice involves three fundamental components: victim involvement, community involvement, and offender reintegration.

Unlike the traditional system where the state is the victim, restorative justice places the actual victim at the center, enabling property restoration, compensation, and a sense of justice. The community also plays a pivotal role, with mediators often drawn from local institutions such as religious organizations and schools. This approach fosters offender contrition and community reintegration, removing the public shaming and ostracism typically associated with criminal charges.

Guyana has already taken significant steps in implementing restorative justice. The country enacted its Restorative Justice Act on November 15, 2022, ahead of the Needham’s Point Declaration, which advocates for greater use of alternative dispute resolution methods, including restorative justice.

Numerous training sessions have been conducted to prepare judges, magistrates, prosecutors, police officers, and community leaders across all regions of Guyana to administer and apply restorative justice.

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