Acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar. – Photo by Roger Jacob
Acting Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar says he is supportive of any initiative that would lower the life sentences of convicted prisoners, once they are capable of leading productive lives when released.
On Monday High Court judge Robin Mohammed ordered two convicted prisoners to be paid compensation for breaches to their rights.
He said it was evident that the regime for sentence reviews for life imprisonment was challenged and needed review.
The inmates, Leslie Tiwarie and Robert Noreiga, brought separate constitutional motions.
Tiwarie was convicted of rape, robbery and arson and sentenced to 30 years’ hard labour in April 1989.
He has spent almost 34 calendar years in prison, and while his sentences for rape and robbery are now spent, he continues to serve a life sentence for arson.
Noreiga was convicted on April 27, 1994, for manslaughter and sentenced to life, not to be released before 15 years.
His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. He has spent almost 29 calendar years in prison, some 14 years past the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.
In both men’s cases, the prison authorities had a duty to do regular four-year reviews of prisoners serving life sentences, to consider the possibility of their release.
The men’s motions said the prison authorities had not done any such reviews, except for one on Noreiga in 2002.
Speaking with Newsday on Friday, Ramoutar said he agreed with any measures that would allow them to have their sentences reduced.
“I have spoken favourably of prisoners who are ‘lifers’ and who show the ability to return to their communities.
“Many of them we have categorised as being fit for reintegration.
“I support any sort of resentencing that would allow them to return to society and contribute positively.”
He said the possible shortening of sentences should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, depending on how well inmates adjusted to rehabilitation programmes.
Ramoutar also said he felt the recommendations of the prison service should be given top priority before any decision is made on releasing prisoner.
“As it is right now, we are given an opportunity to write a report on the particular inmate we have in mind, but I don’t know how much weight that report carries.
“So this way we would like to have a large say on whether the prisoners have been reformed or not.”
Newsday also contacted head of the Prison Officers Association (POA) Gerard Gordon, who said he agreed with the suggestion of addressing lengthy delays in reviews, but felt the problem required the attention of more than one institution.
He said recommendations for a more expedient criminal justice system were not new and lamented that such calls were in vain unless supported by robust strategies.
“This is just one point in an entire system of judicial dysfunction.
“You cannot expect justice to be done when you have individuals remanded for more than ten years, have their matter heard in the magistrates court for another few years and then go to the High Court for another few years, (and) some cases having key witnesses and prosecution personnel pass away.
“So these statements, to me, are simply another one in a long line of statements and reports on the state of our judicial system that no one is willing to treat with in any real way.”
Gordon suggested strengthening the capacities of the Forensic Science Centre, better case management and time limits on court proceedings to avoid further backlogs from arising.