prisons still plagued with over-crowding, lack of staff
The 2019 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) report, 286 of every 100,000 citizens is incarcerated. The report which was released on Monday, examines several areas including access to healthcare, gender equity and the inequalities in human development in the 21st century.
The Camp Street Prison
While the report discloses that literacy and school dropout rate experience an 85.6% decline, ranking the country at 123 out of 189, almost half of the country remains unskilled.
The Ministry of Finance mid- year report, which was released in August, reported that there were 2069 inmates distributed across the five prison facilities in Guyana. The overall figure comprises 724 male convicted inmates between the ages of 18 and 35. These are namely at the Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Mazaruni, Lusignan and Timehri prisons.
The Guyana Prison Service (GPS) currently has the manpower of just over 500 officers. However, despite this, it is still understaffed by 101.
The mid- year report did not highlight the reason for the GPS being short staffed. But it noted that there was a recruitment drive in the first half of this year which boosted its capacity.
Components to rebuild the Camp Street Prison, including steel cells, have already been procured. The expansion of the Mazaruni Prison is ongoing and the project remains on track for completion in the second half of 2020.
These upgraded facilities are intended to alleviate the overcrowding situation across the prison system. The procurement of equipment is intended to improve the safety of officers and inmates, including body scanners, has already commenced.
Reports revealed that the issue of overcrowding is being addressed from all angles. These include, but are not limited to, releasing offenders on parole, Presidential pardons for non-violent offenders and the greater use of alternative sentencing.
Earlier in this year, the United States (U.S) Department decried that state of affairs as it related to the living conditions in Guyana’s prisons, noting that it posed a serious threat to human life.
According to a document the country had published on human rights practices in Guyana and other countries around the world, “Prison and jail conditions particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse and inadequate sanitary conditions.”
The Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, called on the magistrates to grant more bail to first offenders and those who commit petty crimes.
This, he stated, would not only help in ensuring there is not overcrowding in prisons, but with the social effect imprisonment would impose.
“The minute you put a man in jail, he graduates by talking to the senior convict. That also graduates him into more negative behaviour,” the minister stated.