Guyana continues heavy reliance on custodial sentencing – UNDP

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which assesses the judicial systems in nine Caribbean territories, has highlighted Guyana’s dependence on custodial sentencing predominantly for persons charged with non-violent and petty offences as well as on pre-trial detention which has led to a high prison population.
The report endorsed Guyana’s move to decriminalise offences such as possession of small amounts of narcotics. As for pre-trial detention, alternative sentencing, and diversionary programmes, the report said that stakeholders are of the view that alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation are not widespread with the Guyanese public.
“The culture is big on punitive justice, and the society has been seen as a litigious one. Probation services are overwhelmed, which makes obtaining timely probation reports before sentencing challenging,” the report stated, adding that alternative sentencing can be used especially for young and first-time offenders and women who are caregivers. This will, however, require sufficient social workers and probation officers to supervise, it stated.
Additionally, the report stated that at the end of 2019, there were 1015 males and 45 females on remand, in 2018, there were 2273 males and 98 females and in 2017, 2263 males and 103 females were on remand, according to figures coming out from the Guyana prisons.
“An earlier IDB support for the Criminal Justice System Project document notes that custodial sentences for persons charged with non-violent and petty offences increase the prison population. The overuse of pre-trial detention is attributable to, among other factors, the lack of legal counsel, the lack of training and resources for prosecutors and case overload at Magistrates’ Courts,” the report outlined.
Moreover, the report recommended that alternative methods such as non-custodial sentencing, delayed imprisonment and monitoring, probation, and community service be considered as well as diversionary measures at the police and Magistrates’ Court level.
“Restorative justice could be promoted as well. Decriminalisation of certain offences such as possession of small amounts of narcotics has also been raised for consideration,” the UNDP concluded.
In February last, the Public Security Ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with 12 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) for diversionary measures for children in contact with the law. The programme will include re-education, reintegration, and rehabilitation of affected youths into society.
Former Culture, Youth, and Sport Minister, Dr Frank Anthony had played an integral part in drafting the bill under the previous Government, which has paved the way for youth that come in contact with the law. (Shemar Alleyne)