Prison reform

first_imgLast Sunday, we dealt with “The Prison Service and Camp St Prison” in the context of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deaths of 17 prisoners at that location. We focused on the problems inherent in herding 1000 prisoners in buildings meant to house less that half of that. But as we cautioned, there has to be a root and branch approach to prison reform. It is quite unfortunate, as we pointed out, that the problems presently erupting are not new and have been addressed in several past inquiries.We referenced the report by the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) which took evidence in 2003, in the midst of widespread violence committed by five prisoners who had escaped from Camp Street Prison on Republic Day 2002. They submitted their report in 2004 to Parliament – which took six years to release it – but the recommendations have never been implemented, especially as it relates to the Prison Service. Even if the previous Government had shelved the report, as the present Government claimed when they were in Opposition, there is no excuse for it to continue gathering dust; especially when President David Granger was a member of the DFC, which sat for several months.In Guyana, we tend to focus almost solely on insisting that our prisons “lock up” those who break the law so that they are incapacitated. Incapacitation is premised on the removal of criminals from society to prevent them from harming innocent people. But actually, prisons have three other major purposes – retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution refers to the “eye for an eye” rule of justice and insists there must be punishment for crimes against society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is one way of supposedly making them pay their debt to society for their crimes. This purpose is very popular with most Guyanese even though it may not be politically correct to express it too vigorously.“Deterrence” functions for prisons to play a role in the prevention of future crime by providing warnings to people thinking twice about committing crimes. The theory is that the possibility of going to prison will discourage people from breaking the law once they understand the privations that prison life entails. Most Guyanese are also in favour of this function especially since it is supposed to operate optimally when the functions of retribution and incapacitation are emphasised.Rehabilitation, on the other hand, refers to activities designed to change criminals into law abiding citizens, and seems to have fallen into disfavour as it tends to do in most societies with rising crime rates. However, in the US, with a prison population exceeding two million, even with all their resources, they have concluded that more emphasis must be placed on rehabilitation.We therefore return to the DFC Report and look at the recommendations made over a decade ago on the function of the Prison Service to “rehabilitate” prisoners. “The Prison Act and Rules made there under do not place emphasis on the training of inmates so that they can become responsible, industrious and useful citizens on their discharge. Instead they place greater focus on security and discipline. However, an idle prisoner is a potentially dangerous one and it is in the furtherance of security and discipline that there should be a constructive regime of activities geared to beneficially occupy prisoners’ time.“Prisoners should be encouraged to spend their prison time in learning useful skills such as masonry, carpentry, joinery, Agriculture, or in reading books eg, in electronics and mechanics…(Prison) should not be a place where prisoners can meet and learn from one another to become more proficient and versatile in crime. Otherwise judicial orders for compulsory imprisonment would not only fall to achieve their desired objective but would be counterproductive both to prisoners and society.”In addition to the points made on job training by the DFC, modern prisons also offer counselling with a psychologist or social worker.last_img read more

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