…Ramjattan says prisoners on remand costing the nation a fortune
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has said that reducing the amount of detainees among the general inmate population requires effective functioning of the criminal justice system.
The Minister was speaking against the backdrop of a study on alternatives to incarceration of pre-trail detainees, conducted through the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme.
The study was commissioned by the Public Security Ministry, and looked at recommendations for this issue, among other things. The draft final report was discussed at a workshop on Thursday.
Ramjattan has said that while the study has stressed the alternative to pre-trial, methods must be utilised to resolve this problem. He said the local law provides for this, but the laws are not being used. He also pointed to another issue highlighted in the report, which is the granting of bail in deserving cases.
The Minister, an attorney by profession, pointed to his experience in private practice, saying he is aware of situations where prosecutors, for sometimes no good reason, do not want to recommend bail.
Speaking about the slow pace of the criminal justice system, Ramjattan said this often results in the incarceration of persons awaiting trial for long periods.
Another issue is insufficient community-based sanctions, and the need for criminal law reform.
“We’re somewhat hesitant in doing major criminal law reform, although I must say that we have started the process by having a number of pieces of legislation brought by the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Attorney General and myself (Juvenile Justice Bill) being one that will soon be debated,” he stated.
Further, the Minister spoke about the heavy price that Government has to pay to support those on pre-trail detention. He noted that it is costing Government way too much even just to feed them.
“The current remand population of our prison facilities accounts for 35 percent of all inmates, and the cost of providing meals alone for the remand population is estimated at $150 million annually.”
The Minister has said that given this high percentage of remand prisoners, members of the judiciary should be more encouraged and willing to capitalise on the opportunities to utilise alternatives to pre-trial detention.
“The current high ratio of remand-to-prison population makes a strong case for stakeholders along the criminal justice chain to seek ways to eliminate inappropriate use of pretrial detention,” he asserted.
Addressing prison officials also was consultant for the programme, Peter Pursglove, who noted that one of the major issues found during his assessment of the system is unreliable information.
He said that with the lack of reliable information, it will be difficult to reliably develop alternative systems.
“We found that we had prisoners with different names but the same facts; different dates of births from the judiciary and the Prison Service; different sentences, and different times that they were committed. Overall. We found that their statistics could not be accurately used because they were unreliable,” Pursglove said. The consultant therefore recommended the establishment of a modern data collection system.
“There has to be a proper prisoner database if there is going to be any development of sentencing reforms. You have got to know who is in your prison and why he’s is there,” he added.
According to Pursglove, this information is important so as to allow Prison officials to constantly monitor those in the system to make sure they are going through their stages at the right time.