The United States (US) on Thursday agreed to help Guyana beef up the operations of juvenile detention facilities, at a time when there are allegations of unsavoury practices by inmates and a number of persons associated with the New Opportunity Corps (NOC).
Speaking at the signing of a Letter of Agreement for the US’ provision of US$850,000, Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett acknowledged that government has been coming under “enormous pressure” to ensure that the Suddie-based NOC juvenile detention centre is properly managed.
She said some of the money would be used to help improve the way the NOC is run. “With respect to the juvenile detention centre, this has been a challenge for some time for us in how we can improve the management and we will certainly be working with the United States to learn from them and improve so that the centre we have now should be properly managed,” she said.
American Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt said some of the funds would be used to support the NOC and Georgetown Prison to address gang development and repeat offending by youths. “Working together with Guyanese partners, our focus will be to share and implement international best practices designed to prevent gang recruitment in prison and to reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders,” he said. ‘
A number of Guyanese have been sent to a Nebraska correctional facility to observe how it works, and there are plans for mentoring of more officials in the US.
The NOC, which currently has a population of 110 juveniles including 47 girls, has come under the microscope in recent weeks for alleged sexual exploitation, runaway detainees who go into isolated areas where they have sexual intercourse as well as unrest that last year had led to the burning down of buildings there. The Ministry of Home Affairs runs the juvenile holding centre at Sophia for those who have been arrested by police to prevent them from coming into contact with hardened criminals in police lock-ups.
The US hopes that its work at juvenile correctional facilities would complement its ongoing work under the USAID SKYE programme which has been assisting more than 1,000 young Guyanese to gain practical work and life competencies sich as financial management and improved oral and written communication skills.
The Letter of Agreement also provides funding to boost law enforcement effectiveness by conducting specialised investigations into human trafficking, gender-based violence, corruption and money laundering. “It includes enhanced training in police functions such as evidence gathering, interrogation methods and case development,” said Hardt.
Under the LOA, the US will help support and make fully operstaional the recently constructed forensics laboratory train police in evidence gathering, interrogation methods and case development.