This sentence for possession of a drug-smoking pipe is excessive



Tuesday, October 24th 2006

The Editor,

With all due respect to Magistrate Ms Chandra Sohan and Guyanese jurisprudence, the sentence of three years handed down to Mr Dennis Hasnoo, a 32-year-old labourer of Miss Phoebe Squatting Area, Corentyne appears to be excessive and disproportionate vis-a-vis the criminal offence/infraction committed by Mr Hasnoo. A sentence of three years for the possession of drug paraphernalia, i.e., a drug-smoking pipe, independent of possession of illegal and controlled substances by the state of Guyana is indeed excessive.

Certainly, and without any reservation, Mr Hasnoo should be punished for violating Guyanese law. But one wonders if Mr Hasnoo and the Guyanese state/people would not have been better served financially, in terms of placing Mr Hasnoo in some form of drug counselling programme and community work such as cleaning up littered streets, painting walls, clearing gullies of debris etc. Indeed, the economic cost of housing, feeding, clothing, and possible medical and dental care for Mr Hasnoo in one of Guyana's penitentiaries will be excessively and exorbitantly high in comparison to the aforementioned options. Also, counselling and community work will have a more beneficial impact on his psychological state as a person and a human being than a prison sentence which does not promote rehabilitation of the individual and in most instances dehumanizes and results in recidivism, while some form of community work may provide him with the necessary skills to be marketable in terms of a job to become a productive tax paying citizen. Remarkably, the counselling and community work paradigms also assist in alleviating the tremendous backlog of cases which plague all Caribbean judiciaries.

The economic cost of incarcerating individuals for minor crimes in various Caribbean nation-states has become prohibitively and astronomically high. Consequently, nation-states such as Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados et al should start to decriminalize certain behaviours and utilize fresh new paradigms, formulas, methods and modalities to address crimes of this nature which can be beneficial to the state, the people, and the individual in terms of cost savings, as opposed to warehousing such individuals in prisons, which in all honesty does not lead to the rehabilitation of the incarcerated. Undoubtedly, such individuals in most instances on leaving prisons are even more violent and hostile towards society than before entering prisons to serve their sentences. Again, all respect to Magistrate Ms Chandra Sohan

Yours faithfully,

Esteban Agosto Reid, Ph.D.


Jamaica, W.I.

Editor's note

Under S.12 (1) of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act any person who has in his possession any pipe for use in connection with the smoking of opium, cannabis, heroin or cocaine shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than $2,000 nor more than $5,000 together with imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than three years. This act was subsequently amended to allow for non-custodial sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana and in the spirit of that amendment it is not clear why the magistrate would have chosen to impose the maximum sentence, especially as Mr Hasnoo pleaded guilty. The jails are already overcrowded.

It must also be noted that the Act, passed since 1988, provided for the setting up of rehabilitation centres to which offenders could be sent. No centre was ever constructed.

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