GEORGETOWN – An US$8M project approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will help Guyana overcome prison overcrowding, by reducing pre-trial detentions and increasing the use of alternative sentencing, among other measures.
According to the bank yesterday, the objective of the loan is to contribute to the reduction in the high concentrations of prison population in the country, which stands at 256 per 100,000 of national population, well above the world average of 146 per 100,000.
The Guyanese criminal justice system tends to use incarceration as the default sanction, the bank explained.
“However, high rates of imprisonment have been associated with an individual’s future proclivity for crime and difficulties in securing employment, among other negative factors. Building or expanding prison facilities can be a short-term fix for overcrowding, but if root causes are not addressed, the new facilities will eventually be filled.”
The project is divided into two components. The first seeks to reduce the use of pre-trial detention, especially for individuals accused of minor offenses.
“The idea is to provide better legal assistance to individuals accused of non-violent offenses, improve the prosecutors’ ability to handle cases according to the seriousness of the offence, strengthen the judiciary, and design and implement a restorative justice programme.
A second component seeks to increase the use of alternative sentencing by the criminal justice system in Guyana. This includes strengthening the country’s legal drafting functions, modernizing probation services and implementing a pilot project at the Magistrate Court level to apply alternatives to imprisonment to non-violent offenders.
The programme is designed to complement a previously approved citizen security program targeting high crime neighborhoods.
Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.
It has been financing a number of large projects in Guyana, including road construction and improvements to the power sector.
The loan from IDB would come months after a deadly fire caused by protesting prisoners at the Camp Street jail.
Seventeen prisoners died in the fire and another of a heart attack. An inquiry concluded overcrowding and long waits for trial were among the major problems besetting Guyana’s prisons.