Guyana has recently been flagged, in a human rights report prepared by the United States Department of State, over the conditions of its prison and lock-up facilities, which have been deemed “life threatening”. This is even as local authorities continue to grapple with issues regarding Guyana’s penal system.The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices compiled by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor was released on Friday. It leads US’ efforts to promote democracy, protect human rights and international religious freedom, and advance labour rights globally.The Camp Street penitentiaryIn its profile on Guyana, the report cited that among the country’s most significant human rights issues are the “harsh and potentially life-threatening” prison conditions.However, it noted that Government officials do not enjoy impunity from human rights abuses, and there are independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuse by security forces.Under the ‘Prison and Detention Center Conditions’, the state’s “Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care”, the report outlined.It outlined that the Guyana Prison Service had reported back in September that there were 2,004 prisoners in five facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,179. As at July, a total of 1,018 prisoners were in Georgetown’s Camp Street Prison, a facility designed to hold only 550 inmates.“Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the total prison population.“In July, inmates at the Camp Street Prison were moved to Lusignan Prison after they rioted and started multiple fires that destroyed the prison. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water. Prisoners also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight,” the report stated.It was recognised that while offenders 16 years and older were placed with the adult prison population, younger offenders were held in a juvenile correctional centre that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.The US report further highlighted that prisoners often circumvent procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to Government officials through family members. It added that authorities investigated and monitored prison and detention centre conditions, and committees prepared monthly reports on their visits.While Government has permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently, there were no requests for such visits during last year.Further, the report went on to note that while authorities generally do not hold suspects in custody past the 72 hours’ detention period, except in capital offences and narcotics trafficking, they occasionally do not respect persons’ rights to “prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members” which the law provides for criminal detainees.Another issue that the report highlighted was the long period of detention that defendants and accused face awaiting trial.“Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrate’s court or in the High Court. This was often beyond the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.With regard to ‘Denial of Fair Public Trial’, the report found that “Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defence or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and Police sluggishness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.”The report also revealed that there were allegations of mistreatment of inmates by prison officials, as well as claims that Police abused suspects and detainees.Under the ‘Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ sub-heading, the report cited the Winston Carlos Haynes case, a former soldier of the Guyana Defence Force, who was accused of raping a minor in March last year. Haynes was fired and prosecuted in a civilian court for the offence. He was committed to stand trial in the High Court, but is out on bail.Moreover, there were no reports that the Government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. However, the report did mention the July 2017 fatal Police shooting of Charles Peters, a mentally ill man, whom they said was acting in a suspicious manner, and that he was killed as he reportedly attempted to escape custody. The August 2016 killing of Winston Hinds by Police was also mentioned. Police officials had claimed the measure was warranted within the circumstances, and no further action was taken, the report stated.