Reform scheme to make prisoners more self-employable
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
February 19, 2003

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THE Guyana Prison Service is moving to train inmates under a reform programme to give them self-employable skills so that they can be successfully reintegrated into society on completion of their prison sentences, Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Ronald Gajraj has announced.

He noted the difficulties ex-prisoners experience in getting jobs because of the stigma attached to them and said there was a need to provide them with the relevant skills so that they could become self-employed.

"It has been recognised by this administration that many inmates returning to society encounter many difficulties gaining employment, particularly because of their criminal convictions", he told a news conference Monday.

"It is therefore our intention to provide life skills to inmates, which can help to make them self-employable.

"Some of the programmes offered through the prison reform programme include construction, fabrication/welding, tailoring, photography, TV repairs, music and art. Additionally, special programmes will be conducted to show inmates how to access small loans for their enterprises", the minister said.

He added that the ultimate success of these welfare and correctional programmes depends on public support and involvement.

Gajraj also announced that prison staff will be exposed to specialist training to meet the needs of the Prison Service and to help them execute their functions more effectively and professionally.

The areas of specialisation include psychology, social work, curriculum development, teaching, agriculture, vocational skills and prison management.

Gajraj said rebuilding the Mazaruni Brick Prison that was destroyed by fire in 1997 was 90% complete and the building is being painted.

He explained that the project would have been completed earlier, but it was discovered that the heat from the fire which destroyed one section, rendered the remaining portion weak and the entire structure had to be rebuilt.

In one of the worst prison riots in the history of Guyana on Thursday August 7, 1997, two dormitories at the Mazaruni Prison were gutted by fire and another building badly burnt, leaving one inmate dead.

Police and Army back up had to be deployed to the site to restore order. However, the other 133 inmates were accounted for.

Prison officials had said that the riot was triggered when a small group of prisoners, apparently bent on making trouble, refused to leave the dining hall where they were allowed beyond the normal 20:00 hrs `lights out' time to watch football and boxing matches on television.

The Home Affairs Minister reported that several prison buildings countrywide will be constructed or rehabilitated to enhance the accommodation and security of inmates.

The ministry is acquiring land for the construction of a new prison and is in the process of acquiring the golf ground club house at Lusignan to expand activities at the Lusignan Prison on the East Coast Demerara, he told reporters.

He explained that the Lusignan Prison is a kind of "weaning prison" where prisoners who are about to complete their sentences are placed to prepare them for re-entry into normal society.

Steps will be taken during the course of the year to increase the Prison Service staff establishment to a targeted figure over a four-year period. In this process, some categories will diminish, while others will increase, Gajraj explained.

Another aspect of the prison reform programme will be the pursuit of several initiatives in agriculture aimed at increasing the self-sufficiency capabilities and revenue earnings of the Prison Service, he said.

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