Non custodial options for sentencing for minor offences must be highlighted
Stabroek News
March 24, 2002

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Dear Editor,

In 1787, in an attempt to solve the problems posed by overcrowding in British prisons, the British Government transported 750 convicts to New South Wales in Australia. During the mid 19th century, in order to reduce the high costs of imprisonment in France, the French Government sent some of its prisoners to the colony of French Guiana. I am not, by any means, proposing that we, almost scapegoat like, should attempt to drive our prisoners into the wilderness, and as a consequence expect the bearing away of all the sins of our community. By citing the two most famous examples of the re enforcement of the social spatial boundaries between the law abiding and the deviant, I am attempting to highlight the two most common problems that bedevilled penal reformers then, and as I write, the same problems persist today.

During the past decade, the number of persons incarcerated in Prisons, Borstals, Psychiatric remand and under other forms of penal control have increased exponentially. Because of the exorbitant costs,the growth of the global prison population has induced overwhelming attention through press reports. The debates on alternatives to prisons, i.e, non custodial disposals, community based sanctions and de carceration initiatives have thus intensified. The main reasons for the current overcrowding of prisons are as follows: 1.The heavy criminal justice processing of drug related offences.2.The use of technologically driven surveillance techniques, have led to a high crime detection rate.3.In many criminal justice jurisdictions, capital punishment has been abolished, and where it is still being retained, it is infrequently used. This is due to change in the global moral opinion, whose case is being championed by a very strong and vocal anti capital punishment lobby.4.Over the past decade, the length of sentences have increased. Today there are more people in prisons for longer periods than was the case two decades ago.5.More acts have been made proscribed, and as a consequence, criminalised.6. In many western countries, e.g Britain, more people have been subjected to processing for council tax default and T.V licence evasion. Many have been jailed. The prison population in Britain is currently the highest in Europe, and will continue to increase in light of the current moral panic about the increase in muggings and other acquisitive property oriented crimes.7.In the U.S.A, zero tolerance policing has created a net widening effect, that has doubled the prison population.

With a growing prison population, and this inevitably leading to high maintenance costs, when a developing country such as Guyana is placed within this context, there seems to be an irrefutable urgency for us to start exploring alternatives to imprisonment, or in a phrase, decarceration initiatives, which means, the relocation of the regime of punishment from the prisons to the community, especially for low culpability offences. We can only reduce the problems created by overcrowding in our prisons, by reducing the use of custody. The importance of community based sanctions, and other non custodial disposals, is that they go beyond mere stretching of penal resources. They expand and redistribute the use of imprisonment, they serve as instruments of programmic re integration and they are cheap and easy to manage.

Prisons whether in their weak or strong forms, have never had the intended effect for which they were designed. They don`t rehabilitate or deter criminals. They warehouse dangerous criminals who once locked up are not free to roam and pose a threat to society, but they seem to create better criminals in their inmates. Throughout ancient and modern history, because the axis of punishment has always revolved around vengeance and retribution, community based sanctions have always been attacked for being too benign, therapeutic and welfare oriented. Many of the critics feel that this system will undermine the consequentialist, and quantum proportionality element that currently exists in the regime of custodial sentencing. My case for community sanctions and other non custodial disposals for Guyana is as follows:

Guyana has a small population, with a culture of interdependency and communitarianism, it has strong intergroup relations. Because the causal processes leading to crime and deviance rest in society, then ipso facto, the solutions must be found in the society. Community sanctions are transparent, visible in their exercise and consequences and reflect justice in motion. This system of punishment fulfils the more punitive objectives of the theories of restoration, restitution and compensation. Reparation to the community for the effects of crime, is at the heart of the use of community based punishment. Offenders work to compensate victims. The terms and conditions of a community service order will require an offender to engage in useful supervised work within the community. The offender, by staying within the community during the tenure of punishment, makes post sanction reintegration easier. The idea of diversion and community based sanctions is not new in Guyana. It has always been practised by the probation service through its work with juvenile offenders. The only difference with my position, is that I would like to see the creation of an institutional framework, which extends the remit of the probation service, giving it greater statutory responsibility in the creation of satellites of punishment throughout Guyana.

Herein lies the great mistake of the P.P.P/civic in making thG.N.S defunct. This organisation in its diminished form, and given its pivotal role in both enskilling and crime diversion strategies, would have been best placed to manage the regime of community punishment.

Magistrates should be given greater sentencing options, to include the use of more non custodial disposals for e.g, curfew orders, anti social behaviour

orders, community service orders and compensation orders amongst others. A custodial sentence should only be imposed when it is truly necessary. All criminal justice systems contain diversion provisions, they include cautions, reprimands, dropping of charges and referral to the social services. This has been standard practice for both juvenile offending and low culpability adult

crimes. The already stretched resources of the prisons should be deployed in the processing of serious criminals. Any prison reform must start with a review of the current sentencing regime in Guyana.

Yours faithfully

Joseph B. Collins