Rehabilitative prison plan is good news for Guyana

Dear Editor,
This news concerning prison reform in Guyana is great indeed. The dailies state that “With the objective of promoting seamless reintegration into society, the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) will embark on the training of inmates in a range of technical and vocational skills throughout the country.” This is a super move, and hopefully is just a start. This really should be ongoing.
Let me state emphatically that prison houses are not really ‘scrap heaps.’ People need second chances, even if their initial plight is not fully understood.
Editor, I firstly want to state that, all over the world, many nations are making positive changes, and instead of spending more and more to house the growing prison population and to fund excessive rates of incarceration, governments are shifting towards a focus on supporting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.
In fact, a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), shows that nearly half of all individuals released from federal prisons are rearrested within eight years of their release, and around half of those rearrested are sent back to jail. So, even repeated sentencing is not the panacea.
The same study also found that individuals younger than 21, who are released from federal prison, are rearrested at the highest rates of any age group. Individuals who did not complete high school were rearrested at the highest rate: 60.4 per cent, while those who had a college degree were rearrested at a rate of 19.1 percent. While incarcerated young adults and school-aged children are more likely to be rearrested, they also have a lot to gain from educational opportunities while in prison. I mean, this makes a lot of sense.
In summation, then, we know that the number of people behind bars, whether on remand or serving sentences, keeps increasing in most countries, and this trend seems interminable. As indicated already, this is placing an enormous financial burden on governments, and is at great cost to the social cohesion of societies. The bottom line is that a new and better approach is needed.
Hence, in Guyana, “Over 1,500 inmates (stand) to benefit from skills training in 2024.” As per the reports. “In accordance with the Prison Service, the training of 1,500 inmates is in line with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government’s pledge to promote prison reform, allowing inmates to acquire essential income-generating skills, and enhancing their education while serving their sentences.”
This kind of thinking and planning must be given free course, and commendations are for those who are the drivers behind it.
According to Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, and as pointed out in his 2024 National Budget debate, “…the ambitious agenda (is) for inmate rehabilitation, underscoring the significance of equipping them with the necessary resources for a successful reintegration into society.” His big proposal is that of “…constructing new vocational schools within the prison system, and proposing training programmes designed to equip prisoners with valuable skills that foster their successful reintegration into society.”
On this note, I am glad that the Director of Prisons, Nicklon Elliot, “stated that the decrease in recidivism in 2023 can be attributed to the enhanced rehabilitation programmes and improved support systems provided to inmates upon their release.”
Editor, it is well established that there is huge success with programmes designed to prepare offenders to re-enter society; and these can include education, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, job training, counselling, and mentoring. After all, as pointed out, “The period of imprisonment (must be used) to ensure, as far as possible, the reintegration of such persons into society upon release, so that they can lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life.”
In Guyana, the Prison Service has always had the backing of such institutions as the Government Technical Institute (GTI), Guyana Industrial Training Centre (GITC), and New Amsterdam Technical Institute (NATI) “in delivering accredited technical training.” Since the country now has the means and political will to effect ‘blunting of recidivism,’ then the proposed plans must be embarked upon ASAP.

Yours truly,
HB Singh