Oct 31, 2020 News
Kaieteur News – The Cabinet is currently in talks to reconstitute Guyana’s Parole Board given that the previous board expired in June this year. This was confirmed by Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn with Kaieteur News last night.
It was reported that the government engaged in discussions about the Board’s reconstitution in light of a significant number of applications being sent in by prisoners for early release and since the board expired in June, there was no one to cater to these applications. Kaieteur News understands that the last prison board functioned from July 2018, with Oslen Small serving as the Chairman.
In the past months, over 300 prisoners were given early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was confirmed by Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels and former Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan. These released prisoners were mostly incarcerated for assault, larceny and possession of narcotics. Prisoners that were incarcerated for more serious offences would have already served one-third of their sentences as required for early release, according to Ramjattan.
Samuels had also disclosed that the prisoners were not only released from Guyana’s main prison- the Camp Street Prison, but some were released from the Mazaruni Prison and the Lusignan Prison as well.
It was stated by the former Minister that the previous administration’s move to decrease Guyana‘s prison population with early releases was to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the inmate population at the Mazaruni, Lusignan and Camp Street, Georgetown prisons.
Ramjattan had previously told Kaieteur News that he had signed off on 50 early releases initially, adding that many more were to be signed off later. “We have to ease the prisons. So, what we have been doing is checking with the prisons to make sure that most of these prisoners that we decide to release have already served about a third of their sentence and were of good conduct while incarcerated,” Ramjattan had said.
Other measures to curb infection included a complete ban on visitation at prison facilities; however, an alternative was presented by the government which saw virtual visitations through the use of electronic tablets provided to the prisons. The prisoners were able to contact their relatives, attorneys and members of the judiciary system.
The method is still being used to date with inmates attending court hearings online via applications like Zoom and Skype, ensuring that justice is still served given the restrictions COVID-19 has brought.
Inmates and their families had complained about the overcrowding in prisons. The daughter of an elderly man serving time at the Lusignan Prison for attempted murder had stated to this publication that she feared for her father’s life since the prison was overcrowded and he is elderly, which poses a greater risk to him. Weeks later, the prison recorded 140 positive cases sending the entire facility into a panic.
Since the government is now in talks about the board, no one has been appointed to serve, but once this is done, more prisoners will be given early release, given that they meet the requirements.
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