In its bid to support Guyana in the reduction of high concentrations of prisoners, an assessment by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was conducted to determine the state of affairs and just how deep the root causes run.
In its assessment of Guyana’s prison population of approximately 2000 persons, the IDB found that prison overcrowding is not necessarily a consequence of rising crime rates. In fact, the bank identified several factors which need to be considered, one of which was the issue of pre-trial detainees.
According to the bank, more than 38 percent of Guyanese adult inmates are pre-trial detainees. The financial institution said that these are persons who, in connection with an alleged offense, are deprived of liberty following a legal process but have not been definitively sentenced by a court.
Further data that the IDB collected from the Guyana Prison Service also showed that 37 percent of pre-trial detainees are in prison for periods between two and four years before their cases are decided, while 46 percent have been detained due to minor, non-violent offenses. On this basis, the International bank said unequivocally that this use of pre-trial detention is one of the contributing factors to the overcrowding of Guyanese prisons.
The Bank also noted that the issue of pre-trial detainees constitutes a fairly complex challenge, as it is affected by other determinants. In this regard, the IDB noted that a majority of adult detainees accused of minor offenses lack legal counsel. In fact, the Bank was keen to highlight that for 2016, the Magistrates’ Courts estimate that 90% of those accused of minor offenses appeared unrepresented in court.
The Bank said that this lack of access to legal counsel may be due to the absence of legislation that guarantees defendants’ right to lawyers, together with a lack of a functioning, effective legal aid system, along with a shortage of lawyers or paralegals doing pro bono work.