A high-level Government team yesterday met with Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecution and senior members of the judicial system to identify measures that could address the problem of over-crowding in prisons in Guyana, especially the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown.
According to a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister, the talks were held in the Boardroom of the Court of Appeal and lasted over two hours.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo said he was asked by President David Granger to lead the Executive’s team to the talks. “We are to have follow-up meetings after an exchange of information and completion of an inventory as to how many prisoners are affected”, he disclosed.
The Prime Minister described the talks as “very successful” in addressing the prison and justice system. “We are assured that the Chancellor, the DPP, the judiciary and the Magistracy are fully on board,” he said.
Chancellor Singh assured the delegation that all necessary initiatives will be considered to expedite trials and to review bail to reduce the number of prisoners on remand.
Vice President and Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan undertook to compile an inventory of prisoners on remand who would be placed in categories in accordance with the offenses for which they have been charged.
The OPM statement said it is expected that Magistrates would expedite trial or grant bail to remove prisoners which could ease the overcrowding of the jails. The Chancellor will be giving consideration to hiring temporary magistrates, once financing could be guaranteed.
Government Ministers representing the Executive at the talks were Vice-President and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams; and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon. The justice system was represented by the Chancellor, Carl Singh; Acting Chief Justice, Yonette Cummings-Edwards; Director of Public Prosecution, Shalimar Ali-Hack; and Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.
After the deadly riots at the Georgetown Prison earlier this month, Chancellor Singh had contacted Minister of State, Joe Harmon, to offer assurance that the Judiciary would support initiatives to ease over-crowing at all five prison locations in Guyana.
“Besides over-crowding, the Executive and judicial teams identified need for strict enforcement of ticketing for traffic violations, where the regulations apply, instead of motorists being summoned to appear before the courts,” the OPM statement said.
It said the teams were further assured that the DPP would continue the process of ‘nolle prosequi’ (Latin for ‘be unwilling to pursue’) in High Court matters where victims and complainants could not be located, after careful judicial review of the circumstances in each case.
Both the Government and judicial sides expressed a strong view that, as far as possible, the police ought to take relevant statements and fully prepare cases for the prosecution before charges are laid. If that were done, it would prevent the remand of alleged offenders to prison pending collection of further evidence or advice from the DPP, as the case may be. Failure to prepare cases result in a cycle of delay and adjournments.
“During the frank and cordial exchange of views, both sides recognise the need for a review of sentencing guidelines, the reform of laws to allow the exercise by Magistrates of greater discretion in imposing sentences, including for drug-related offenses. The need for the police to coordinate with the magistrate in the supervision of community service, instead of a term of imprisonment, was also stressed since community service would keep a number of petty offenders out of our jails,” the OPM statement said.
The Prime Minister has expressed great satisfaction over the progress at the talks, and assured that he would bring to the President’s attention the areas that would require follow- up in order to bring an ease to the prison situation.
He disclosed that within an hour of conclusion of talks, he has briefed the President and alerted him about areas for possible government funding of short term initiatives.