Restorative justice closer to being implemented

As part of the government’s agenda for the modernisation of Guyana’s legal framework, the concept of restorative justice is gradually taking centre stage.

Restorative justice is an alternative approach that seeks to repair harm by providing opportunities for the victim and perpetrator to discuss and address their needs in the aftermath, in a way that promotes healing, accountability, and understanding.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC

The method falls under the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme, which is aimed at addressing the overcrowding in prisons by focusing on two aspects: the overuse of pre-trial detention, and the overreliance by the criminal justice system on custodial sentences.

The approach now forms part of the country’s formal justice system, and will soon be implemented countrywide.

To achieve this, a series of training sessions have been launched for the state apparatus, as well as for civil society organisations, and other entities.

On Monday, a two-day training session was launched at the Guyana Police Force Officers’ Mess Hall, Eve Leary, Georgetown, benefitting some 70 persons, including Toshaos, prison and probation officers, and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

At the opening ceremony, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, said the programme aims to reduce recidivism.

“Restorative justice allows you to stop that cycle…And find out why this person is back before the court. And if you are able to find out why, perhaps you can give him a chance,” he said, pointing to an instance where a serial offender is roped into a vicious cycle of imprisonment.

The Attorney General pointed out that in these cases, the conventional system of punishment fails to fulfil the mandate of rehabilitation and reformation, and many times, it worsens the situation.  

“Has long prison terms with hard labour solved the crime situation in the world? It has not. In fact, the crime situation has gotten progressively worse. So, the experts have told us we have to work on the reformation of the offender than the punishment of him. That is the new direction in which the world is going. And that is why restorative justice has such an important role to play in a modern Guyana going forward,” AG Nandlall explained.

Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai

Meanwhile, Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, said access to justice has been a challenge for Amerindians, and explained that restorative justice provides an alternative avenue for addressing infractions.

“Restorative justice, while not a new concept, now has an identity in our law, and its correct application is what we have to monitor. It is applaudable to see that we are promoting the key leaders of the indigenous communities to be introduced to the concept and how restorative justice is going to be dispensed,” she said.

This approach only applies to minor, non-violent offences, and gives the offender an opportunity to give back to the community, while avoiding the stigma of a prison record.

It empowers members of the community and promotes a transition to rehabilitative instead of punitive measures for offenders.