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History and Security Sector Reform: Crime and Punishment in British Colonial Guyana, 1814-1966

Principal Investigator:

Professor Clare Anderson, Professor of History, University of Leicester

Co-Applicant: Dr Mellissa Ifill, Lecturer, University of Guyana 


Following recent prison breaks, fires, riots and unrest, the crisis in Guyana’s penal system is unparalleled in the Caribbean region. Guyana has grave resource constraints; in terms of GDP it is the second poorest country (after Haiti) in the southern hemisphere. As a member of the Commonwealth, Guyana signed an agreement with the UK government earlier this year, to undertake an urgent review of security (Security Sector Reform Programme, SSRP). Stakeholders include Guyana’s Ministry of Legal Affairs and Prison Service.

This research is of direct value to the SSRP, because it will co-create policy-relevant historical resources on crime and punishment in British colonial Guyana. Its objectives are to increase academic, practitioner and public understanding of the historical roots of key issues pertaining to security, the administration of criminal justice, and prisoner and ex-prisoner rights and equality.

About the project:

Over the past two years there has been a general shift in models of incarceration in the former British colony of Guyana, from punishment (punitive measures) to correction and rehabilitation (via training and education). Yet, Guyana’s government, Prison Service and general public know very little about the history of the country’s jails, particularly during the British colonial period (1814-1966).

This project brings into partnership investigators and researchers from the UK and Guyana, working on crime and punishment from the vantage points of history, criminology, penology and development studies. It aims to produce a much-needed historical perspective on questions of how best to develop and administer criminal justice in Guyanese jails.

It also confronts squarely the issue of colonial legacies in modern forms of punishment. In this respect, the project aims to show that it is possible to address the negative continuities of one area of the Britain’s imperial past through an international collaboration in which researchers, practitioners and policy-makers can together address difficult historical issues in a former British colony, in a way that promises positive social change for the future. 

This project is a collaboration between Professor Clare Anderson (Leicester) and co-investigator Dr Mellissa Ifill (University of Guyana), in partnership with the Guyana Prison Service.


 A podcast on Professor Anderson's Guyana Workshop Panel can be found here:


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