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Guyana’s overcrowded jails due to backlog of remand prisoners- US

Last Updated on Monday, 18 April 2016, 22:01 by Denis Chabrol

As police and prison service personnel try to grapple with an ongoing crisis inside the Georgetown Prison, the United States notes the overcrowded state of that maximum security jail.

In its 2015 Human Rights Report, the United States State Department states that a total of 963 prisoners were in Georgetown’s Camp Street Prison, designed to hold 550 inmates. “Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 11.3 percent of the total prison population.”

Overall,  the report states that the Guyana Prison Service reported that, as of October, 2015 there were 1,944 prisoners in five facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,640.

The Prime Minster recently led an executive ministerial delegation to meet with representatives of the judiciary including the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh; Chief Magistrate, Ann Mc Lennan and Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack to find ways of easing the back-log of cases.

The State Department was also critical of the overall conditions of Guyana’s detention facilities for adults. “Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care,” states the report.

After 17 prisoners were burnt to death at the Georgetown Prison in Guyana’s worst prison unrest on March 3, 2016, a number of shackled and handcuffed inmates were allowed to meet with Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State Joseph Harmon to whom they complained bitterly about lengthy wait for trials, poor quality food and human rights abuses.

In recent days, prisoners are said to be roaming the yard freely and cooking their own food because several wardens are one week’s sick leave. Ramjattan believes that the wardens are fearful because the prisoners are spitting on them and threatening them and their families.

In terms of the detention of minors, the US notes that officials held offenders 16 years of age and older with the adult prison population. The document adds that in most cases officials held juvenile offenders ages 15 years and younger in the New Opportunity Corps (NOC), a juvenile correctional center that offers primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.

The Human Rights report recalls that it was reported in April, however, that a 15-year-old girl was ordered by the court to be placed in the NOC, but instead she was held for weeks in a detention center at a police station and was subsequently sexually assaulted by a male constable.

The State Department observes that the prison service offered rehabilitation programs focused on vocational training and education, but such programs did not adequately address the needs of prisoners with substance abuse problems.

The  American government says no information was available about the adequacy of prison recordkeeping or the extent to which authorities used alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

In the area of independent monitoring, prison visiting committees prepared monthly reports on the Georgetown, Mazaruni, New Amsterdam, and Timehri prisons. “There was no indication that the government declined to permit outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently, but there were no requests to make such visits during the year.”

Several prisoners, officials of the Guyana Prison Service and the Guyana Fire Service have already testified at a Commission of Inquiry into the deadly prison unrest  that is currently being held.

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