Explosive overcrowding at Guyana prisons

The head of a police abuse complaints authority and former chief justice has criticized overzealous magistrates for ramming the prison system with inmates facing trivial charges, saying that the level of overcrowding at the main country facility has reached “explosive” levels.

Cecil Kennard urged the current brigade of magistrates to visit the maximum security Georgetown prisons to see for themselves how dire the overcrowding is at the wooden and concrete jailhouse, built decades ago to house 400 but catering for close to 1,200 today.

“It is an explosive situation,” Kennard said, blaming magistrates for remanding defendants on trivial charges like using threatening language, a real case example that he cited in comments this week.

He said constant remanding of those charged with misdemeanor offences could result in wardens “being overpowered” by the number of inmates under their control as he urged authorities to take note of the situation.

He said the situation is compounded by long delays in trials. In the very recent past, inmates have climbed to the roof of the prisons to hold press conferences with journalists on the streets, lambasting authorities for incarcerating them for extended periods before trials begin.

“Many of the young magistrates have not gone to the prison. A visit must be made,” Kennard said.

Prison authorities as well have also in the past asked the courts to take overcrowding into consideration when remanding prisoners, as the facility in the heart of commercial Georgetown is bursting at its seams.

In the past year, several magistrates have resigned to return to private practice, contributing to a near impossible workload for those on the bench.