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Age of criminal responsibility, diversionary options to help save youths from jail

by Zena Henry

As government works toward keeping the nation’s youth out of jail, the age of criminal responsibility and diversionary options over jail terms are among several areas being explored.

Vice President and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan who says discussions with the British High Commission and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have proved that the two agencies are willing to help set up programs that will deal with the rehabilitation of young offenders, while emphasis will be placed on keeping them out of jail, particularly when a minor offence is committed and can be addressed by other means.

As it relates to the High Commission, Ramjattan said that they have noted interest in addressing youths that would have been locked up for short periods, while UNICEF wishes to see the abolishment of “status offences” such as wandering, to prevent the incarceration for such minor offences. Additionally, raising the age of criminal responsibility and the provision of diversionary options against an instant jail term are also on the table, the Minister pointed out.

He said that in a case where a father might report that his son stole his mangoes, “If there was a diversionary option of the man in the court talking to his son and the magistrate being involved, when the boy pleads guilty or was found guilty there isn’t an immediate year jail term.”

 “If there was a diversionary option,” he continued, “There could have been some other solution to the problem, a warning by father to son or put on a bond or some such thing.” “We don’t want our young people to be in jail because it’s in jail that they become hardened criminals,” Ramjattan urged.

The Public Security Minister said he was concerned that “if they start their association with the bigger boys, you’re going to have bigger criminals in the eight month, three month period, but if you take them out from that circumstance, that scenario your better able to rehabilitate, they will be given and a change, they will understand what it is all about and they quickly will want to rehabilitate themselves.”

The Minister hopes that work to review the system regarding youths will come on stream as soon as possible, following discussions with the representatives from Britain and UNICEF>

Outside of that, the Minister said that a review of the larger penal justice reform system would also commence to see what help can be given to the older persons who have been jailed for some time.

“How do we rehabilitate them, probably give them some skills so that when they come out they can be useful citizens.” In that regard consultations with the prisons authorities is necessary as the United States has already expressed their support.

President David Granger pardoned more than 60 young persons who committed minor offenses and had been locked up. This will continue every year during Independence as the new Guyanese President is adamant that all measures will be put in place to prevent the nations young from filling jail cells.