Guyanese contingent in US for meetings on alternatives to incarceration for drug related offences

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Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, Acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Dion Mc Calmont and National Anti-Narcotics Agency Head Michael Atherly are on an official five-day visit to the United States of America.

They, along with officials from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, will attend meetings in Chicago and New York, aimed at exploring Problem Solving Courts and Alternatives to Incarceration for drug related offences.

According to a release from the Department of Public Information (DPI), the meetings end on June 15 and will provide the opportunity for the high-level decision makers of Caribbean countries to experience innovative models first hand and to ask questions of those directly involved in programmes’ implementation and operation.

The initiative is a result of a commitment made by the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (ES/CICAD) and Secretariat for Multidimensional Security of the Organization of American States (OAS). The commitment embodies the goal of providing technical assistance to OAS member states in the implementation of alternatives to incarceration programmes.

ES/CICAD is currently supporting the development and/or implementation of various problem-solving court models including, but not limited to, drug treatment courts for adults and juveniles, diversion programmes, re-entry courts as well as community courts.

For the visit, ES/CICAD has also partnered with the Chicago based Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) and the New York City based Centre for Court Innovation (CCI). Both organisations are recognised in the field for their commitment to design, implementation and promotion of alternatives to incarceration. Additionally, they play a critical role in monitoring and evaluating alternatives under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission is the western hemisphere’s policy forum for dealing with existing drug problems. The CICAD Executive Secretariat supports the commission by strengthening the human and institutional capabilities and channeling the collective efforts of its member states to reduce the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs.

The meetings in the United States comes on the heels of the recent public outrage over a man who was sentenced to serve three years in prison for the having 8.3 grams of cannabis in his possession.

Carl Mongol

The man Carl Mongal was however, granted High Court bail on Friday last when his attorney Nigel Hughes made a successful bail application on his behalf.

It has been alleged that Mongol, on May 18, at Princes Street, had the aforementioned quantity of the illicit substance in two Ziploc bags. Mongal was then told of the allegation and cautioned, and he admitted to the allegation. He was arrested, taken into custody, charged, and subsequently jailed for the offence.

The sentencing caught the attention of the public, and even the politicians. In fact, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said that for small quantities of marijuana, he would support the removal of custodial sentences from the law books in their entirety.

He has reminded that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is committed to supporting a ‘conscience vote’ should the matter come up for a vote in the National Assembly.

However, after almost three years, the Alliance For Change (AFC) has still not managed to find support from the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) for a motion it had proposed, in the name of AFC parliamentarian Michael Carrington, to move the first reading of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill.

The motion to have the first reading of the Bill was tabled since December 10, 2015. The Bill itself has not been made public.

Former AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes, with the help of Attorney Mark Waldron, had drafted the bill, which seeks to soften the penalties for marijuana possession.

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