By Tusika Martin
In a very fiery presentation Tuesday evening, at the National Assembly, People’s National Congress Reform member, Deborah Backer pointed out that to meaningfully tackle drugs, guns and other crimes, the root causes of these must be adequately addressed.
During the second day of Budget debate, Backer told the National Assembly that it is noteworthy that the government has now accepted that the root causes of crime include poverty, unemployment, social marginalisation and inequality.
Dealing with the issue of torture and other infringements of citizens’ rights by the Disciplinary Forces, Backer said that while the reduction of road fatalities was the highpoint of the force during 2008, the torture and subsequent investigation that followed, and some which are still to be investigated, represent yet another chapter of the violation by the two major bodies.
She noted that the sanitised report of the investigation into the allegations made shows a determination by the Guyana Defence Force to dilute the atrocities committed by their own, on their own, and that the term ‘roughing up,’ which everyone outside the ruling party found ludicrous, was coined to do the same.
Backer called on the GDF to release the unedited results of the investigations and for an independent inquiry into the allegations.
She also pointed out that during 2008, there were many other infringements of citizens’ rights with numerous persons being arrested for no reason, kept in the lockups for days, photographed, fingerprinted and then released without any charges being preferred against them.
During the debate, Backer spoke of the lax state of securing prisoners. She said that this has recently been in the public domain with a citizen being caught taking marijuana into the facility.
The finding of cellular phones in cells is another example of this laxity, she added. She said that overcrowding at the prisons carries with it attendant problems as it reduces the overall security since the ratio of prisoners to prison officers increases.
This, Backer said, can lead to more prison escapes and escape bids as was seen several times in 2008.
She recommended that the criminal justice system undergo fundamental changes with an alternative to certain custodial sentences.
Under the Guyana Justice Improvement Sector Reform 2006-2010, many proposals have been made for reform of sentencing policies and also the introduction of legislation to provide a modern framework for community service order, she noted.
According to Backer, it is hoped that those pieces of legislation will be tabled in the National Assembly this year.
In concluding her presentation, Backer recommended that the Guyana Police Force be renamed to the Guyana Police Service in keeping with the motto of ‘Service and protection.’
She also recommended that legislation for community policing be enacted. Making the remuneration package for members of the disciplined forces significantly more attractive was another of her proposals.
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