Apr 23, 2018 News
The United States (U.S.) Department of State has taken note of allegations that prison officials mistreated inmates as well as claims that police abused suspects and detainees.
In its Human Rights Report that reviewed events in Guyana last year, the State Department detailed challenges that continue to confront the criminal justice system.
“Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases,” the report stated.
It pointed out that prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
The report stated that prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhumane conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.
Overcrowding, the report found, was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30% of the total prison population.
The report quoted the Guyana Prison Service as having 2,004 prisoners in five facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,179. As of July, a total of 1,018 prisoners were in Georgetown’s Camp Street Prison, designed to hold 550 inmates.
The State Department also noted that prisons were moved from Camp Street Prison to Lusignan Prison after they rioted and started multiple fires that destroyed the prison. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water. Prisoners, according to the U.S. Report, also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.
An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law requires that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.
The U.S. noted that authorities occasionally did not fully respect these rights of criminal detainees to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members.
“Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client,” the report stated.
Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures.
“The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This was often beyond the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged,” the U.S. stated.
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