Coloniality and the Criminal Justice System: Empire and its legacies in Guyana
This article explores the colonial origins of aspects of law and punishment in Guyana, arguing that they can be linked to practices that date from the early nineteenth century. First, it connects the emergence of the still extant system of preliminary inquiries in the criminal justice system to debates about the property rights of slaveowners in the 1820s, the era of amelioration. Second, it explores the importance of plantation agriculture in shaping the colony’s jail-building programme in the years following emancipation in 1834, when prisons became a means of social discipline and labour control and a source of unfree labour. Linkingobservations on the nation’s colonial history made during a 2016 commission of enquiry into a prison riot in Guyana’s oldest and largest jail, Georgetown, to the history of prisons and prisoner experience and their relationship to enslavement and indentureship, the article reveals the persistence of discourses and practices of imperial governance and associated public attitudes since Independence in 1966. This historicized perspective underpins the argument that colonial systems and mentalities, or what the authors term ‘punitive coloniality’, continue to pervade both structures of state accountability and criminal justice practice in Guyana today.
This article is based on research conducted for the ESRC GCRF-funded project ‘Mental Health, Neurological and Substance Abuse Disorders in Guyana’s Jails: 1825 to the present day’ [award no. ES/S000569/1].
CitationSlavery and Abolition, 2022, VOL. 43, NO. 4, 682–704
Author affiliationSchool of History, Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester
- VoR (Version of Record)