Inaugural Criminal Justice Reform Conference: Regional leaders urged to tackle crime, derisk hot spots

President Dr Irfaan Ali

As the historic Legal Conference on Criminal Justice Reform got underway in Guyana on Wednesday, President Dr. Irfaan Ali impressed on the legal luminaries, including those from around the region, that criminal justice reform and derisking so-called high-risk areas would involve the region’s brightest minds from across sectors coming together to find solutions.
From July 10 to 11, Guyana is hosting the first ever Legal Conference on Criminal Justice Reform, which is tasked with advancing the Needham Point declaration. The Needham Point declaration was adopted in October, 2023 in Barbados with the aim of countries making policy interventions to improve the wheels of justice.
President Ali, who delivered the feature address during the opening ceremony at the Marriott Hotel, noted the timeliness of the conference. At the same time, he urged the need for a comprehensive discussion that would include all facets of the ecosystem, from educational to social and cultural.
“Unless the system supports this realignment, then we will not be dealing with the Criminal Justice System in totality. We can go and adopt all the legislation the IDB wants to recommend to us; we can bring all the best practices; but if we do not fix the ecosystem — that is not only an issue for the judiciary and the dispensation of justice, but is a problem for all of us: for the churches, the Parliament — then I believe that we will continue to plaster the problem and not address the foundation. Cracks would appear at different times and different forms,” President Ali said.

From left are: Attorney-at-Law Keoma Griffith; Chancellor of the Judiciary,(ag) Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards; IDB Country Rep Lorena Solorzano Salazar; President Dr Irfaan Ali; CCJ Judge and Chairman of the CCJ Academy of Law, Justice Winston Anderson; Belize Chief Justice Louise Blenman, and Guyana’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC

The Head of State noted that while agencies and foreign governments would put out warnings to tourists about ‘at-risk’ areas that are prone to crime, not enough conversations are had on how to derisk these areas.
“If we determine an area to be a high-risk area, then how do we derisk the area? Where is the conversation on derisking the area? And this is an important part of the ecosystem that surrounds criminality. How do we apply our minds to the creation of policies that derisk high- risk areas? And what are the policies of that derisking?” he asked.
“And then we’ll see it takes us to a traceability study on levels of education, drop-out rate, access to education, quality of teachers,” he added.
“If there is a particular area that is prone to a particular crime, then the education system must put teachers in that area who are trained and equipped with a special skillset to deal with that particular issue, so we can change that thinking in the system. That’s how deep we have to go,” the Head of State said.
On a regional level, President Ali further warned that the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Beryl in the region can exacerbate economic conditions that fuel crime. He also cited worrying statistics on crime in the region, where as much as 90 per cent of homicide victims are men.
“We have economic challenges, and in this region it is magnified by single events. Hurricane Beryl, in 45 minutes, has sent people from the middle development class back to the poverty line. The entire fisheries sector in Barbados wiped out in 45 minutes. The beaches that are an important part of the revenue generation critical to the rebuild of the fisheries sector (are) gone; (as are those in) Grenada, St Lucia, Jamaica. In an environment in which there is already great economic pressure, our region is now faced with these difficulties,” President Ali lamented.
Last year, Guyana had a significant decrease of 17 percent in total serious crimes for the year. There was a 15.7 per cent reduction in the total number of serious crimes, reflecting a reduction from 1,641 incidents in 2022 to 1,383 incidents in 2023. There was also a reduction of 42.7 per cent in reported incidents of robbery with violence, going from 82 incidents in 2022 to 47 such incidents in 2023.
Also in 2023, the United States Government had launched a Youth Resilience Inclusion and Empowerment (Y-RIE) programme in Guyana, positioning its intent to guide youths into productive adults, away from a life of crime and violence.
Y-RIE is intended to be a youth-centred, systems-strengthening activity based on a public health approach to violence prevention, and incorporates positive youth development approaches. It targets youths at risk between ages 10 and 29.
Over a five-year period, the project will be implemented in four Caribbean countries, including Guyana. The intention is to collaborate with Government to improve social services provided to youths who are at a higher risk of involvement in crime and violence.
The Guyana Prison Service (GPS) also has a “Fresh Start” programme which was launched in 2022 with the aim of reducing criminal recidivism by providing resources and motivation for success when ex-offenders rejoin the community.
It also aims to meet the needs of ex-offenders transitioning from incarceration back into society, as well as giving former offenders a chance to be better individuals. The GPS has said it plans to expand the oversight committee in 2024, to have more officers dedicated to identifying eligible candidates. (G3)