The Ministry of Legal Affairs is in consultation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), on developing alternative sentencing as part of measures to reduce overcrowding in the prisons.
Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Basil Williams told the Government Information Agency (GINA) in a recent interview that, “it’s something still in the pipeline”, but the government will be considering “alternative sentencing, pre-trail liberty and considerations like that” as it seeks to address overcrowding in prisons.
“The whole idea is to try to weed out these offences that are clogging up (the prisons). Sometimes some people who are there for a six-month sentence could have had some other sentence,” Minister Williams explained.
A report from the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the Camp Street Prison riots, which led to the death of 17 persons in March, cited overcrowding as a major factor. The COI report noted that there is a huge disparity in the ratio of remand to convicted prisoners. It went on to call for more enforcement of the Bail Act. Bail is a constitutional right afforded to prisoners with the exception of murder, treason or the possibility of the accused being a flight risk.
In the meantime, the government has allocated $25M to facilitate Night Court sessions as an immediate measure aimed at reducing the backlog in the judicial system, particularly overcrowding in prisons.
Minister Williams opined for the Night Court to be successful, it must target criminal cases with sentences between three months to three years, “So that we won’t have people with these offences clogging up the prisons.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security’s Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) will be conducting a study to evaluate alternatives to incarceration. Funding for that project was acquired from the IDB.