Community service is an excellent idea
January 23, 2004
If the information I received by way of the Guyana Chronicle in its Tuesday, January 20 edition is correct I am pleased with the decision made by Acting Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen to order two persons charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana to do 50 hours of community service and suspended jail sentences.
One of the main reasons why developed countries have instituted similar decisions is because they have seen that having people serve time has allowed persons to make substantial contributions to society. There are a number of things to be done in a number of communities, but because of a lack of manpower, they are never accomplished.
This is a timely decision that would work well for this society. Furthermore, since our prisons are overcrowded, this decision can serve more than one purpose. Minor offenders will not have to spend time in prison with more seasoned criminals.
I sincerely approve this move by the Acting Chief Magistrate. However, some consideration should be given to increase the fines offenders have to pay. Each offender was only fined $5,000.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was amended a few years ago to permit non-custodial sentences such as community service for persons found in possession of less than five grams of marijuana. This is in keeping with the position in other jurisdictions, some of which have decriminalised the possession of marijuana or tend not to charge persons found with small amounts which indicates that they are not traffickers.
Our law still provides for a minimum jail sentence of three years for those in possession of five grams or more. This partly accounts for the overcrowding in the prison system.