What can you make of a man who feels that society has totally rejected him as a convicted person, and who has no sense of belonging and the feeling of being loved and accommodated? What can you make of a man, who, for committing a minor crime like the abuse of a young girl, has been in prison for more than two years, and is still waiting to receive his bill of indictment? What can you make of a man, who for reason of default in our justice and penal system, is incarcerated under hellish condition for what he has not done? What can you also make of a man whose fundamental rights as human are blatantly violated while in prison, and whose trial is delayed unduly prior to his sentence?
Having said this, it is pertinent that the state and civil society organizations take a robust stand in addressing this pathetic human situation, which, by all indications, has the potential to derail the relative peace and stability of this country. Those in prison who are at the receiving end of the mindlessness of prison authorities are desperate for the intervention of those individuals and organizations to speak on their behalf. One of those organizations that have been working assiduously towards ensuring that sanity prevails in our prison system is Don Bosco.
In a letter addressed to the then Director of Public Prosecution dated 10th September 2015, and with copies sent to the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as well as to the former Internal Affairs Minister, the Director and Regional Director of Prisons, the Master and Registrar of the High court, the Human Rights Commission and the then State House Chief of Staff, Don Bosco called on the judicial and political authorities to release those 79 inmates at the Pademba Road Prison who were waiting for their indictments since 2012 and even before.
As an organization that is concerned about the plight of young persons and those in need, including prisoners, it has also found that defaults in the justice and penal system impede fair trials of prison inmates. The letter at the time categorically stated that ‘’ for good reasons, the law in Sierra Leone does not tolerate that inmates have to wait for the bill of indictment for years.’’ The organization in this regard has been asking for urgent reforms in the police and judiciary so that abuses of prison inmates can be stemmed forthwith.
Don Bosco also noted that there are children who are also kept in the central prison with adult inmates. It has been calling for their relocation to the juvenile detention centres. In fact I wonder whether such centres for child delinquencies even exist in Sierra Leone.
Since the law of Sierra Leone does not tolerate that prison inmates have to wait for years for their bills of indictments, and given the prevalence of such a nauseating reality in the prisons, this means that little or nothing has been done by the authorities concerned to address this. And once nothing is seen to be done in this regard, prisoners are going to continue to languish in the dungeon indefinitely. This is against the principles of natural justice. This is an abuse of a grand scale.
The current deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Lahai Lawrence Leema, who was once detained by the police at the Male Correctional Centre at Pademba Road, lamented that he was shocked when he saw inmates who had been in detention for a long time jubilating when they were slammed with bills of indictment.
As stated earlier, prison inmates are not sub-humans or aliens; they are of flesh and blood. They also demand a relatively better life even in detention. I think what they must be deprived of for sure is their freedom because of their misdemeanour and nothing more. Their incarceration does not in any way imply that they must not have access to sufficient and clean drinking water, better medical and housing facilities, clothing and the like.
The evident overcrowding in the central prison points to the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with our justice system. In fact an outbreak of an epidemic is bound to have catastrophic effects on those in prison.
Thank God that Ebola did not find its way in their midst. I wonder how many among them would have survived this apocalyptic disease in a crammed prison of nearly 2,000 inmates that was meant for just about 300.
This is quite appalling and it is a disgrace to humanity. Therefore, all responsible citizens of this country should consider the state of our prison system as totally unfit for human habitation, and to ensure that concrete actions are taken to reverse this ugly state of affair.
Thanks to the intervention of Don Bosco in taking the onus of providing some essential amenities like food , water, medicines, clothing and even legal services to Pademba Road Prison inmates.
The Legal Aid Board has also been doing pretty well in providing legal services to especially those not privileged to afford such services. The intervention of other humanitarian bodies can help provide the much desired synergetic relationship to alleviate the condition of prisoners and to ensure that urgent reforms in our justice and penal system are formulated and implemented.
Of course, one cannot rule out the fact there is also an urgent need for more judicial officers to expedite criminal cases without delay, as well as the need for capacity building to ensure sanity in the dispensation of justice. The provision of logistical, financial and other relevant supports towards the administration of justice is also imperative.
Having said all this, it is worthwhile to categorically state that the prison is meant for everybody, so appropriate action must be seen to be taken urgently to ensure that such a place is seen congenial.