MNS disorders in Guyana’s jails, 1825 to the present day

New Amsterdam Prison. Photograph: Clare Anderson, 2017.

This UK-Guyana project has been funded by the ESRC’s Global Challenges Research Fund, and is directed by Principal Investigator Professor Clare Anderson. The project is a partnership between the University of Leicester, University of Guyana and the Guyana Prison Service. A multi-disciplinary research team is researching the definition, extent, experience and treatment of mental, neurological and substance abuse (MNS) disorders in Guyana’s jails: both among inmates and the people who work with them. It has two aims: to model a new interdisciplinary way of working and to produce policy-relevant materials on mental health, cognitive impairment and addiction among prisoners and prison officers.

The project’s perspective is historical, social and cultural. It covers the period from 1825, when the British opened the colony’s first jail in Georgetown, to the present day, following Guyana's independence in 1966. It is rooted in the hypothesis that the existence of MNS disorders can be traced back to the British colonial period, and that they cannot be disconnected from the country's history as a sugar colony that employed and controlled indigenous people (Amerindians), enslaved Africans and indentured Indian labourers. It sets out to investigate the ways in which Empire created particular forms of trauma, shaped demography and religious practice, and instituted patterns of population control including through the creation of new forms of institutional confinement.

Its methodology includes research in colonial-era and post-1966 archives and records; and work with prison personnel, communities living near prisons, and prisoners' families, through focus groups, workshops and interviews.

Overall, the project seeks to enhance academic, practitioner and public understanding of MNS disorders in the jails context; build robust relationships between academics, practitioners and policy makers; and stimulate behavioural change. It aims to impact on prison security, the administration of criminal justice, and prisoner well-being, rights and equality.

Mazaruni Prison. Photograph: Obrey James, 2017

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