“Women have no place in prisons” – GHRA

The Guyana Human Right Association (GHRA) is of the view that women should not be placed in the prison system but should be sent to some sort of “half-way house” to be rehabilitated instead.
In a statement on Friday, the association welcomes and lauds the intention of President David Granger to pardon non-violent female prisoners, highlighting the injustice that incarceration imposes on women in ways that do not apply to men.
“Women, for the most part, have no place in prison. Some 90 per cent of women are in prison for three offences: petty theft, drug trafficking and murder – all related to disordered relationships with men.  Female drug traffickers carry the can – so to speak – for the male king-pins, or are charged jointly with men for drugs found in homes; they steal to maintain children neglected by child-fathers and kill in retaliating against men who are persistently violent,” the release stated.
According to the GHRA, none of these women poses a danger to society, which is the fundamental reason for incarceration. In fact society does not fear women in general, at least not in the sense of being a threat to life or property. The Association noted that even women who have committed violent crimes are not viewed with the dread that male perpetrators can inspire.
Reference was made to a recent Australian study from the Centre for Evidence-based Sentencing: “Women almost never scare us; commit random acts of serious violence; violate our sexual integrity; or form organised crime networks and yet their prison numbers are now the highest in recorded history.”
GHRA added that the study also outlined that a high percentage of women in prison suffered from sexual and violent abuse in their childhood. This, the release detailed, when added to the other factors highlighted earlier for which most women are incarcerated, prison as a response to women in trouble with the law is simply a reflection of an area in which gender inequality remains undisturbed.
In fact, the study notes: “Nearly every incarcerated woman is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked difference between female and male offenders.”
The human rights organisation went on to stress that incarcerating women is a harsher penalty than for men: “Put men in prison (in humane conditions) and provide them with cigarettes (and – it would seem – access to Facebook) and they just do the time. Women in prison are pre-occupied by what is happening to their children, their homes and their partners – all of which can be dispersed and disappear by the time they leave prison,” the release said.
Furthermore, GHRA related that reports from other societies show women in prison experience much higher rates of sexual violence than men and from men, stating that while no reports of such acts have been received from the New Amsterdam prison, the higher the numbers grow the more exposed inmates become.
“The GHRA has for many years held the position that rather than prison, the overwhelming number of women found guilty of crimes requires a place safe from the men who are complicating their lives.  A half-way house approach is needed where women can undergo forms of rehabilitation to restore self-esteem and learn problem-solving techniques – problems being a major cause of why they got into trouble in the first place,” the human rights organisation posited.
Since Guyana needs radical solutions to address rising levels of criminality, the association believes that starting a programme along the lines being suggested with women would not generate hostility to the extent it would with men. The release added that such alternatives to imprisonment successfully tested with women could in fact be extended to men in a reverse of the thinking which saw women being incarcerated in the first place.
On a different aspect, the GHRA noted that in light of prison overcrowding, Presidential pardons on a more regular basis would be a welcomed development, particularly given judicial and magisterial sloth with respect to remand prisoners and the ponderous procedures of the Parole Board.