In light of 19-year-old Kelvin Bates – who was pardoned by President David Granger last year – being charged for a spate of robberies on the Corentyne, in Berbice, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has stated that he will consider releasing the names of the new set of prisoners that are expected to be released.
As part of the country’s 49th Independence Day celebrations last year, the Guyanese Head of State announced that he will be pardoning some 60 “petty” criminals in their late teens to mid-20s; however only 40 of them were released in June. The remaining 20 were presumably found unsuitable for various undetermined reasons and remained incarcerated.
The criteria includes that prisoners who are facing short sentences; those who are incarcerated for petty, non-violent offences; and those prisoners between the ages of 18 and 24. This pardoned gesture applies to both female and male inmates.
This decision, however, had caused great uneasiness among Guyanese, especially business owners, since the country’s crime rates were high at the time. Persons were also calling for the identities of these convicts to be publicised but Government explained that this would have hindered the reintegration process of these young people back into society.
Nonetheless, Ramjattan told Guyana Times on Saturday that he will be inclined to release the names of those pardoned prisoners if it is requested. “Of course if asked, we will release the names of all those who will be pardoned. It is an obligation in the name transparency that the Minister released all the names of those who are on parole and pardoned,” he pointed out.
The Public Security Minister confirmed that the 19-year-old robbery suspect in Berbice is indeed one of the pardoned criminals. Bates appeared in court on Thursday facing several charges ranging from robbery under arms, larceny from persons and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition that occurred earlier this month. According to court documents, he was reportedly on bail for another armed robbery when he committed the aforementioned offences.
However, Minister Ramjattan conceded that Government erred in selecting Bates as a candidate to be pardoned but noted that they were given the opinion that he was of very good character while in the prison, hence he was released. He added too that the teenager only had four more months of his sentence to serve and this was taken into consideration was well.
“It is not exclusively the President that makes these releases. He has to get some advice from the Director of Prisons, the Prison Officers who would have dealt with him directly and also after I would have sort the record out,” the Minister explained. He noted that in reviewing the name submitted last year, he was advised that the list presented to him was vetted and all candidates were qualified to be released.
“I had a role to play because the fellow just had a short-term more left and he was of good character in the prison. We have to release our young people, jail is not necessarily for young people but if we make a mistake even like that by virtue of the fact that he started stealing again, what do you do,” the Minister questioned while adding “you simply now have to ensure that when he gets back in there (prison) that he will never again get pardoned.”
Moreover, Ramjattan pointed out that this now brings the question of overcrowding of the prisons system into question. “It is a collision course with trying to defuse the tension by over population in the prison system,” he stated.
It has long been established that the local penal system is holding prisoners way beyond its capacity. In fact, in March this year, inmates were protesting the condition of the Georgetown Prisons, causing a three-day unrest during which 17 inmates were killed and several others injured in a fire within the Capital A Division of the facility.On the other hand, the Public Security Minister went on to say that the Administration is looking at strengthening the rehabilitation programme that the pardoned criminals undergo as part of their reintegration into society.
He said Government is awaiting the disbursements from the Citizens Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP), which has some US$1.5 million set aside. He added too that the United Stated funded Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) project plays a crucial role in the reintegration of these pardoned convicts into society.
According to Ramjattan, he is looking forward to partnering with the US and utilising this rehabilitation programme because of the level of expertise and research that goes into their projects. “Whenever they come up with a programme, it is well advised and well funded. They have a skills-set that is pretty excellent so whatever programmes they come with, I will generally adopt,” he remarked.
Nevertheless, the Public Security Minister outlined that even though Government wants to strengthen its parole system, it is the access to funding that is posing a hindrance. He underscored the need to have more tools and equipment to engage pardoned convicts and those on parole in workshops in an effort to train them.
“When they come out of prison, we want to also ensure that we do see them doing something useful outside,” he stated.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had called for the release of the names of the pardoned prisoners, pointing out that these persons were not “pretty” criminals as was being portrayed. The Opposition Leader’s calls fell on deft ear.