Probation service can be expanded to be the basis of non custodial sentences for minor crimes
Stabroek News
March 27, 2002

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Dear Editor,

The case for the establishment of a system of community based

sanctions, and the greater use of non custodial disposals in Guyana, is overwhelming. Guyana as a poor country, with a small population, must embark on a policy geared towards a measured and incremental decarceration of our prison system, and by so doing, thus relocating some of our prisoners who are low culpability offenders to serve their sentences in the community. We can

then free up an overcrowded prison system, and use it on a diminished scale as a warehouse for dangerous criminals, such as, rapists, murderers, drug dealers, burglars, robbers and others.

The full force of the criminal justice system must be made to impact on the category of prisoners that pose the greatest threat to social order. Taking seriously the risk management factor, which is an obvious issue in the management and enforcement of these sanctions, and ensuring that the consequentialist and quantum proportionality objectives of custodial punishment are replicated in the community sanctions, and non custodial disposals, we can then create satellites of punishment throughout Guyana.

Community sanctions expand and redistribute the use of imprisonment, and by so doing will reduce the possibility of overcrowding and prison riots. They also serve as instruments of programmic re-integration. Punishment in the community is visible, transparent and unglamorous in its theatricality. It encapsulates punishment in motion, and is not a softer option to imprisonment. Most community sanctions realise the objectives of reparations, restoration, restitution and the compensative aspects of justice. Reparation to the community for the effects of crime is at the core of these sanctions. The offender is required to work in order to compensate victims, but also towards programmic re-integration.In community based sanctions victim oriented measures are inserted, e.g compensation orders. The low culpability and petty offenders can serve their community sentences by doing useful, supervised work e.g cleaning the streets of towns and villages, unblocking the drains and canals of Georgetown, painting hospitals, schools and churches, clearing the overgrowth in the cemeteries, painting of traffic signs, etc. This list can continue interminably. If offenders are drug users, then they should be made to attend drug therapy and rehabilitation clinics. If the offenders break the terms and conditions of their community service orders, then the punishment should range from an increase in the sentence, to the extreme end of the tariff, which is imprisonment. Imprisonment should only be used as a last resort.

Decarceration in the context of this letter, does not imply the eradication of the prison system. It connotes a relocation of petty and low culpability offenders from prisons to serve their sentences in the community under some form of supervision. This form of punishment has cheaper maintenance costs than prisons, and is easier to manage. Yes, it stretches prison resources, which is one of its very few drawbacks. Empirical evidence has shown that for many prisoners who have done their sentences in the community, on average there is a very low recidivism rate. I believe that because the causal processes leading to criminal behaviour, have their origins in society, in the school, family and economic and political systems, then ipso facto, the answers should be sought there. The further a person is processed into the criminal justice system, the more difficult it is for that person to be re-habituated into mainstream society. It is better for offenders to serve their sentences in the community, where programmic re-integration is easier and has a more successful record.

Empirical evidence has shown that prisons don`t deter or rehabilitate criminals, in the inverse they help in making better criminals

of their inmates. Prisons serve as good warehouses for dangerous

criminals. The dangerous rapist cannot roam the streets freely, thereby posing a threat to the public. In order to reduce overcrowding in our prisons, and the concomitants of overcrowding, which are high maintenance costs and the constant threat of disorder and riots, we must establish in a measured and incremental way, a system of community sanctions, and to make greater uses of

non custodial disposals.

In Guyana, the Probation service, the social services, the police and other agencies have been at the forefront of crime diversion strategies for decades, through their path breaking work with juvenile offenders. I am thus advocating the creation of an institutional framework which enlarges the remit of the probation service, social services and other agencies in Guyana that have historically been at the forefront of diversion strategies, giving them greater statutory powers in the operation of community sanctions countrywide, also to give magistrates greater sentencing options to include more community based sanctions and non custodial disposals, and by so doing to lessen the use of custodial disposals. The Guyana Police Force, in its work with juvenile offenders, have immense experience and resources to deploy in this area of punishment, both in its administration and enforcement of the terms and conditions of the various community service orders. In working with juvenile offenders, the police have more often than not, used their discretionary powers to initiate crime diversion processing of such offenders. These include the dropping of charges, referrals to the social services, probation service and other agencies and the use of reprimands and cautions. Police discretion has always had a wider remit within the juvenile justice system. I would like this to be extended to all low culpability and petty offenders. This approach is both progressive and forward looking, and with Guyana`s small population and its communitarian and interdependent culture, if the required resources are made possible then I can`t see why this system of punishment can`t be operational in the next two years.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph B. Collins