The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has announced that it has approved a US$8 million project, which seeks to help Guyana overcome prison overcrowding, by reducing pre-trial detentions and increasing the use of alternative sentencing, among other measures.
In a statement, the IDB explained that the loan’s objective is to contribute to the high concentrations of prison population in the country, which stands at 256 per 100,000 of national population, well above the world average of 146 per 100,000.
“The Guyanese criminal justice system tends to use incarceration as the default sanction”, the statement added.
The IDB noted that the high rates of imprisonment have been associated with an individual’s future proclivity for crime and difficulties in securing employment, among other negative factors.
“Building or expanding prison facilities can be a short-term fix for overcrowding, but if root causes are not addressed, the new facilities will eventually be filled.”
The project is divided into two components.
The first component seeks to reduce the use of pre-trial detention, especially for individuals accused of minor offenses, since the idea is to provide better legal assistance to individuals accused of non-violent offenses, improve the prosecutors’ ability to handle cases according to the seriousness of the offense, strengthen the judiciary, and design and implement a restorative justice program.
A second component seeks to increase the use of alternative sentencing by the criminal justice system in Guyana and this includes strengthening the country’s legal drafting functions, modernizing probation services and implementing a pilot project at the Magistrate Court level to apply alternatives to imprisonment to non-violent offenders.
The program is designed to complement a previously approved citizen security program targeting high crime neighborhoods.
Guyana has had major problems with the overcrowding of the prisons. Earlier this year, 17 prison inmates died in a fire set by other inmates during a protest against prison conditions and other major problems.