Cost of Keeping Prisoners on Remand Too High: Ramjattan

Khemraj Ramjattan

The Public Security Minister Wants Alternative to Pre-trial Detention

GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan says there is need to consider options to pre-trial methods given the high cost associated with the remand of prisoners.

Ramjattan said that the large number prisoners on remand is costing the country a fortune annually and alternatives to pre-trial methods must be utilised to resolve this problem.

“The current remand population of our prison facilities accounts for 35 percent of all inmates and the cost of providing meals alone for the remand population is estimated GUY$150 million annually. That’s just for food and there are several additional costs associated with incarceration of these pre-trial detainees,” Ramjattan told a workshop to discuss the Draft Final Report on the Study of Alternatives to incarceration for pre-trial detainees.

The study was commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank Citizen Security Strengthening Programme and conducted by consultant, Senior Counsel Peter J. Pursglove.

Ramjattan said that with the high costs in mind, members of the judiciary should be more encouraged and willing to capitalise on the opportunities to utilise alternatives to pre-trial detention.

“The current high rate of remand to prison population makes a strong case for stakeholders along the criminal justice chain to seek ways to eliminate inappropriate use of pre-trial detention,” he added.

Pursglove said that there is a disappointing failure of the justice system to gather and produce statistics that can be used to reliably develop alternative systems.

“We found that we had prisoners with different names, but the same facts, different dates of births from the judiciary and the prison service, different sentences and different times that they were committed. Overall, we found that their statistics could not be accurately used because they were unreliable,” Pursglove said.

In addition, the consultant said that the development of an effective alternative to pre-trial detention is heavily dependent on the establishment and use of a modern data collection system.

“There has to be a proper prisoner database if there is going to be any development of sentencing reforms. You have got to know who is in your prison and why he’s is there.

“It is important for remand prisoners that you should be able to look at each remand prisoner and know exactly when he entered prison and when his next court appearance should be. You have got to constantly monitor those in the system to make sure they are going through their stages at the right time otherwise they do get left behind,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that the authorities are implementing some of the recommendations emanating from the Commission of Inquiry following the prison break and fire last year.

He said that the government is dealing with a new Prison Act and that the recommendation by the Commission that was chaired by Justice Winston Patterson for the establishment and composition of an advisory council in the treatment of offenders is also being looked at.

“Based on the responses of the consultant’s work, government agencies have garnered a better understanding of how interconnected the practice of pre-trial justice is and seemed to be quite supportive already of the process to identify alternatives to pre-trial detention and the implementation of the recommendations from the study.” – CMC