– to assist with reducing large prison populationBy Samuel SukhnandanOne of the recommendations coming out of a study that looked at alternatives to incarceration for pre-trial detainees is for Guyana to establish a Sentencing Council. The final draft report stated that this could help to address the problems associated with the increase in the prison population here.Consultant Peter PursgloveThe report which was recently submitted to Government and was prepared by consultant Peter Pursglove under the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) of the Public Security Ministry stated that there was a lack of clear and coherent sentencing policies.Over the years, sentencing policies have been developed piecemeal and there has been no unified approach to sentencing issues among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of Government.As such, Pursglove said that there was a need for this specialised body to oversee and coordinate sentencing policy in Guyana. But to perform this function, a Sentencing Council must be established and mandated to draft sentencing guidelines.“The establishment of the Sentencing Council will address the problems inherent in the current sentencing structures, whether neither Parliament nor the judiciary acting alone is able to make comprehensive sentencing policy and manage sentencing levels and prison populations,” the report added.It was noted that where Parliament provides little or no legislative guidance on sentencing, it is sentencing judges who largely determine sentencing policy.They are directed to the Court of Appeal for guidance on sentencing. However, it was found that the usefulness of individual appellate court decisions is limited. But more importantly, when giving sentencing guidance, courts of appeal do not have the time and resources to undertake systematic research or to investigate the cost-effectiveness of the options.“A Sentencing Council with a mandate to draft sentencing guidelines can improve transparency, predictability and consistency of sentencing.It can help to address the problems of prison over-use, sentencing disparity, increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and provide a means of avoiding the politicisation of sentencing practice and policy,” it further added.Pursglove said in the final draft report that given the importance and complexity of sentencing and the magnitude of the task to be accomplished by the various agencies involved in the criminal justice system, there is a need in Guyana for a permanent and specially constituted body to oversee the entire sentencing process and ensure effective coordination of consistent sentencing policy.In providing an insight as to what may constitute a Sentencing Council to be established here, the consultant said that it would include the provision of guidance to Judges and Magistrates; the gathering and provision of information and statistics for monitoring; planning and policy development; and engaging the community by informing and consulting the public.The role of the Sentencing Council could be amplified to include collecting and disseminating sentencing information, compiling statistical data, developing sentencing guidelines and providing judicial education and training for judicial officers.It could, therefore, play a valuable role in producing accurate but readily accessible information about sentencing issues for the media and the public.“The Sentencing Council could also carry out an evaluation of the impact of both existing and proposed sentencing legislation, particularly in relation to penal resources and the cost-effectiveness of different sentencing options, including their impact on prison populations,” he added.Pursglove acknowledged in his report that the current sentencing system did little to prepare judicial officers for sentencing the offenders who appear before the courts. One deficiency pointed out in the Guyana sentencing process is the lack of adequate information and data to support sentencing divisions. And given the lack of that information, it has led to a disparity in sentencing.With the establishment of a permanent Sentencing Council, it could effectively complement the work of the Court of Appeal.The Council would be primarily responsible for the formulation, review and updating of sentencing guidelines while the Court of Appeal would be responsible for application of the guidelines. This partnership would help to balance the need for greater uniformity and equality of justice while maintaining a sufficient degree of flexibility to allow for individualisation of sentences in appropriate cases.The consultant conducted meetings with key stakeholders in order to be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Guyana’s approach to the provision of alternatives to incarceration, along with opportunities for reform and development.The study also looked at issues including juvenile detention; sentencing policy; discretion available to Judges, Magistrates, Police and Prosecutors; capacity of probation and other systems of supervision of non-custodial sanctions, including possible collaboration with civil society organisations; restorative justice; and decriminalising certain acts.