Problems of overcrowded prisons Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 13, 2002

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RISING CRIME and overcrowded prisons are increasingly becoming twin social problems for a number of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states, with worst-case scenarios being Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Two developments over the past week, one in Barbados, the other in Guyana, commend themselves for serious consideration in relation to the problem of overcrowded prisons and their consequences.

The Barbados example, which could be emulated, has to do with the proposed introduction of a prisoner-exchange or transfer programme, starting initially with about 60 foreign prisoners to their countries of origin in agreement with those jurisdictions.

Originally built in the 19th century to house an estimated 300 prisoners, Glendairy Prisons today is tightly squeezing three times that many inmates, 900 of them, a situation that has too often contributed to disturbances at that institution.

Holding of prisoners on remand for unnecessarily long periods without trial has been identified as one of the factors contributing to overcrowding and even leading to jailbreaks.

This problem has drawn a strong rebuke of magistrates in Guyana by that country's Chancellor of the judiciary, Desirée Bernard.

The Chancellor has quite rightly observed that it was alarming to have as many as 41 per cent of an estimated 831 prisoners in the Georgetown Prison as "remand prisoners", some of them in custody for four years awaiting trial.

She has blamed the magistracy for this deplorable situation and warned against police prosecutors being given more than two adjournments before firm dates are fixed for hearings.

In Trinidad and Tobago, where a new prison complex was built after years of protests over overcrowding and prison escapes from the central penal institution in the heart of Port-of-Spain, a new anti-crime campaign has brought swift complaints from prison officials of the additional stress they have to face with the consequential increase in the prison population.

Some countries, including Barbados, have been experimenting with the policy of alternatives to custodial sentencing that facilitate first and young offenders involved in non-serious crime like rape and murder to perform community services.

More than expanding prison facilities or building new penal institutions, it is evident that there is need for critical evaluations of the criminal justice system in the region.

The quicker this is addressed at the national level the better it may be to evolve a regional approach in bringing about much-needed correctional changes.
(From yesterday's Barbados Daily Nation newspaper)