The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is heartened by the recent extension of a Presidential pardon to a number of women prisoners. The GHRA also welcomes Presidential activism of this kind for specific categories of prisoners.
The recent release particularly recognizes the injustice that incarceration imposes on women in ways that do not apply to men, the GHRA said.
“Women, for the most part, have no place in prison. Around ninety per cent of women are in prison for three offences: petty theft, drug trafficking and murder – all related to disordered relationships with men.
“Female drug traffickers carry the can – so to speak – for the male king-pins, or are charged jointly with men for drugs found in homes; they steal to maintain children neglected by child-fathers and kill in retaliating against men who are persistently violent.
“None of these women are a danger to society – the fundamental reason for incarceration,” the GHRA said.
Indeed, the society does not fear women in general– at least not in the sense of being a threat to life or property. The GHRA stated that even women who have committed violent crimes are not viewed with the dread that male perpetrators can inspire.
A recent Australian study from the Centre for Evidence based Sentencing states: “Women almost never scare us; commit random acts of serious violence; violate our sexual integrity; or form organised crime networks and yet their prisons numbers are now the highest in recorded history.”
The study also points to the high percentage of women in prison who suffered from sexual and violent abuse in their childhood. When added to the other factors noted earlier for which most women are incarcerated, prison as a response to women in trouble with the law, is simply a reflection of an area in which gender inequality remains undisturbed.
The Study notes, “Nearly every incarcerated woman is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked difference between female and male offenders.”
The GHRA said that moreover, incarcerating women is a harsher penalty for women than for men. Put men in prison (in humane conditions) and provide them with cigarettes (and – it would seem – access to Facebook) and they just do the time.
“Women in prison are pre-occupied by what is happening to their children, their homes and their partners – all of which can be dispersed and disappeared by the time they leave prison.”
Reports from other societies show that women in prison experience much higher rates of sexual violence than men and from men. The GHRA has not received reports recently of this occurring in the New Amsterdam prison, but the higher the numbers grow the more exposed inmates become.
In the unforgiving righteousness pervading Guyanese society about offenders, the GHRA said that it appreciated the need to highlight that only women imprisoned for non-violent offences are covered by the recent Presidential pardon.
However, a cursory reflection on the general issue of women in prison quickly demonstrates that it is generally unnecessary, expensive, unfair and fruitless, said GHRA.
Prison was originally devised as a strategy for protecting society against dangerous men – then simply extended mechanically and unproductively to women.
The GHRA has for many years held the position that rather than prison, the overwhelming number of women found guilty of crimes require a place, safe from the men who are complicating their lives.
“A halfway house approach is needed where women can undergo forms of rehabilitation to restore self-esteem and learn problem-solving techniques – solving-problems badly being a major cause of why they got into trouble in the first place.”
Moreover, in light of prison overcrowding, Presidential pardons on a more regular basis would be a welcome development particularly given Judicial and Magisterial sloth with respect to remand prisoners and the ponderous procedures of the Parole Board, GHRA said.
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