PRESIDENT David Granger has continued his tradition of routinely pardoning young people as well as women who have been incarcerated for minor non-violent offences. He released two women recently for Guyana’s 53rd Independence Anniversary and followed up with the pardoning of two students of the New Opportunity Corps earlier this week.
Prince Julio Cesar
However, as is the case with most decisions made by this government, there have been attempts to drill holes into the action of the president purely for political spin with persons revisiting the crimes committed by the now-pardoned inmates.
Prince Julio Cesar Venezuela
President Granger himself has explained time and again that careful consideration is given to persons who benefit from this presidential action. It is clear that he understands both the social and political implications for such actions and has been granting these pardons in a most careful way since he started. Unlike his predecessor, Donald Ramotar, who had pardoned a child-killer and when asked about it, said he was unaware that the relatives of the victim were still grieving. President Granger has used this constitutional prerogative to give young people and mothers a second chance at life
In fact, very early in his presidency, he was unequivocal in his conviction that “young people should be in school and not in jail.” Society will now be expected to do its part in accepting those inmates that are well-deserving back into its fold, minus the traditional discrimination that is so well known. All agencies ought to be part of this exercise, beginning at a time of a new dispensation, and a similar horizon beckons, by giving those pardoned a chance at rehabilitation
All the prisoners pardoned thus far were in jail for committing non-violent offences. In the case of those at the NOC, most of the children there are serving time for wandering and other petty offences. In the initial stages of this programme, the Guyana Bar Association and other organisations had called for the release of the names and photographs of the inmates; the administration has heeded this call and has since been providing details of the crime committed by the inmates, as well as their names and photographs
A prison, also known as a correctional facility or jail, is a facility in which inmates are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the State. That prison is a foreboding place is uncontested. Its location, usually away from population centres by many miles (the Camp Street Prison, built in colonial times, is an exception); its very structure, characterised by unusually high walls that are mostly topped by razor wire and with strategically placed watch towers with armed guards who command an all-encompassing view of its external environment
It is a reminder that the inhabitants within those walls have had to be placed there, set apart from the normal mix of society, for crimes against the laws of the land. People are sent to prison for two reasons: to be punished for their crimes and to be rehabilitated. But as we know, prisoners are categorised on account of the type of offence committed. These are usually from the minor offenders and those categorised as not dangerous, to the most extreme of the latter
It is a fact that there are prisoners who are so dangerous that they will never taste the sweet air of freedom again. Such has been determined by the law that society has to be kept safe from this type. There is yet another that has been made to serve very lengthy sentences, as a result of the horrendousness/serious nature of the crime committed
These will have a release date, based on the length of sentence. And there is still another group: those in incarceration as guests of the State whose sentences are not so lengthy. For them, looking forward to liberty is as much anticipated as the sun that will rise on the next day, because of a short sentence
It is a given that our kind of society, which has its socio-moral underpinnings and values mostly influenced by its colonial experience, has always emitted a jaundiced and prejudiced view as to those who become guests of the State. It is no different in the former British colonial territories that now constitute CARICOM
In this milieu, many perceive prisoners, whether incarcerated for a minor or major infraction of the law, as persons who are stamped with the mark of outcasts. We describe these as the “bread and water” treatment perception of prison and prisoners, reminiscent of the colonial mindset. So we must now ask the pivotal question – should not those who offend, and have been made to serve their time or pardoned, not be given a second chance on their return to society?
To view pardons with suspicion, as antithetical and even threatening to society, is to adopt a short sighted and parochial attitude to a programme even as we urge that such acts be seen as a way to recognise the redemptive power of the justice system