“Incarceration is not for young people” – PM Nagamootoo

─ multi-sectoral approach to address drug sentencing soon

─ “they must be productive citizens” – Public Health Minister

DPI, Guyana, Friday, July 5, 2019

The government has recently taken steps to remove custodial sentences for persons found in possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less. While possession of the substance remains an offence, persons will not be sentenced to terms of imprisonment as would have been the case in the past. This significant step was taken as the government continues to make strides in addressing overcrowding in the prison system, and more importantly, addressing the issue of incarceration of youths and persons in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

At a recent community meeting, Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo explained: “We were faced with… a jail that was made for 600 persons holding 3,000 and that created a human problem and most of the young people on remand in the jail are in there for marijuana. Keeping them out of the jail that was our first concern. Incarceration is not for young people!”

Other government officials have pointed to the soon-to-be-established Drug Treatment Court as a step towards focusing on the rehabilitation and the reintegration of these persons into society.

At the community meeting held at Golden Grove on the East Coast of Demerara, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence told the gathering that three government ministries – Public Health, Public Security and Social Protection – will all play an integral role in the functioning of the drug treatment court.

“One of the things the government is looking to do is not to incarcerate persons who have a drug habit since this only worsens their situation… We want to ensure that we can review their social issues, and this will fall under the Ministry of Social Protection, while the Ministry of Public Health will conduct the court – doing testing and psycho-social analyses, and then provide the magistrate with a report – who will then decide what type of sentencing that person will have,” the Public Health Minister explained.

Sentencing would range from community service to rehabilitation while there will be training opportunities available for persons to tap into potentials they may have to contribute to society.

“The whole intent is to treat these persons from a humanitarian perspective rather than criminalising them – we want them to be productive citizens who can contribute to their communities,” Minister Lawrence added.

Prior to coming office in 2015, the APNU+AFC Coalition had indicated its intention to removing custodial sentences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana in an effort to address overcrowding in the prisons and persons incarcerated for small amounts of the substance.

Following a Cabinet meeting this week, the Ministry of the Presidency made it clear that it is only the proposal, to remove custodial sentencing for 30 grams of marijuana or less, which has been approved, as possession is still illegal.

Images: Kawise Wishart

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