Liberia: Overcrowded Prisons Forces Two Inmates to Share a Plate of Food

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MONROVIA – The Assistant Minister of the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice, Eddie Tarawali, says the overcrowdedness at various prison facilities across the country has immensely contributed to health issues and the reduction in the supply of daily rations to inmates and convicts at various prison facilities across Liberia.

According to him, the situation has compelled two inmates or convicts to share or manage the ration of a single inmate at these prison facilities, including the famous overpopulated Monrovia Central Prison.

Minister Tarawali made the disclosure on Wednesday when he spoke at a one-day National Dialogue Forum on Prison Conditions held at a local hotel in Sinkor, Monrovia.

The forum was organized by the Rural Human Rights Activists Programme (RHRAP) and Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development (SHED) in collaboration with the Finn Church Aid (FCA)-Finland, with funding from the European Union (EU).

It was held under the theme: “Promoting Constructive Dialogue amongst various Sectors for Collaborative Problem Solving for the Improvement of Prisons in Liberia”.

Minister Tarawali pointed out that the overcrowdedness at these prisons is a ‘national security’ issue that needs to be addressed with immediacy.

“Based on the overwhelming overcrowdedness of our prison situation in Liberia; it has caused serious problems for us. It’s creating a health situation problem and the intake of food ration. Today, I can proudly say to you without fear that a ration that supposed to be consumed by an inmate- based upon the overcrowdedness of the prison-you have about two inmates consuming that ration,” he stated.

Minister Tarawali added: “We need to work on the situation so that we can address the issue of this entire prison overcrowdedness. It is a national security situation because, if we cannot work on this situation, it will cause a serious embarrassment for us. It also has a human right record as well. And so, we are working with our strategic partners to ensure that we can address the whole situation of prison overcrowdedness”.

He described prisons as the ‘fulcrum of justice and security’ in Liberia, noting that, much attention must be given to the sector.

Minister Tarawali noted that international funding will be wasted on the justice and security sector of Liberia if keen support is not accorded the prisons. 

“Based on the overwhelming overcrowdedness of our prison situation in Liberia; it has caused serious problems for us. It’s creating a health situation problem and the intake of food ration. Today, I can proudly say to you without fear that a ration that supposed to be consumed by an inmate- based upon the overcrowdedness of the prison-you have about two inmates consuming that ration.”

– Eddie Tarawali, Assistant Minister of the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice

“The prison system of Liberia is stratified under our three basic components of our criminal justice system. In order to move our justice and security sector forward, these three basic components of our criminal justice system are basically equal in terms of responsibilities and tasks. So if we are supportive towards the criminal justice sector, we must also be fully aware that the prison is the fulcrum of justice and security,” he added.

The Assistant Justice Minister for Correction and Rehabilitation said the courts have a pivotal role to play in helping to decongest prisons by speedily assigning and adjudicating cases.

“If the police is capacitated to apprehend these criminals and process them through the court; and the court is also basically capacitated to do their criminal prosecution-and the prison is incapacitated to do the fundamental components of correction and rehabilitation-I can safely say that there will be a waste of funding within the justice and security sector,” he noted.

“The prison is very strategic. And so, we as partners it is imperative that we focus towards on how we can move the prison system forward”.

Over crowdedness

Minister Tarawali pointed out that all of Liberia’s 16 prison facilities remain overcrowded.

“Today in Liberia, we have 16 prisons. The Monrovia Central Prison is the most populated prisons that we have under our prison data base and statistics. As I speak to you based on the festive season, the population of the Monrovia Central Prison has increased up to 1400 population. The original capacity of the MCP is basically 375, but right now we have over 1400 plus at the level of the MCP. 

“All other prisons are overcrowded as well. The National Palace of Correction is also overcrowded when it comes to the issue of inmates,” he noted. 

He urged the courts to take greater responsibility by ensuring the timely prosecution of accused persons if prisons should be decongested in Liberia. 

“One of our major reasons that we have deduced- we are having the issue of prison over crowdedness is because of the coordination within the justice and security sector. I think it is important that the courts must have a greater responsibility in ensuring how we can address some of the basic situations of pre-trial detainees,” he said.

Challenge

He disclosed that the prolong stay of pre-trial detainees at prison facilities remains one of the major challenges of the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation.

According to him, approximately 70% of the country’s prison population comprises of inmates that have been detained but not fully prosecuted and convicted.

Minister Tarawali maintained that prosecution must gather the evidence and ensure the prosecution of persons accused of committing unlawful acts, instead of keeping them at various prison facilities for long without being prosecuted.

“The pre-trial detainees is one of our major challenge that we need to address to move forward. If you look at our prison statistics record, it is clearly shown that 65 to 70% of our prison population are pre-trial detainees. That means, the court needs to do more work to ensure that the issue of criminal prosecution must basically be done as well. We are also saying to our partners and those in touch with us that prosecution also has a greater responsibility to play as well. These people need to be prosecuted. It is the responsibility of prosecution to execute their functions and responsibilities. When prosecutions are not doing that, it also give the greatest burden on the prison. 

“The prosecution gets lot of legal grounds to hold if there is no sufficiency evidence to nolle prosequoi cases and allow the prison population to be decongestion”.

Giving an overview of the Forum, Joyce Pajibo, Executive Director of SHED, disclosed that the exercise was intended to forge a sustainable partnership towards the improvement of prisons across the country.

According to her, the challenges confronting prison system in Liberia remain enormous, and as such, civil society actors must be consistently involved by partnering with government and its international partners to address the situation. 

“There are lots of challenges and gaps facing the system even more than what we observed before in past projects. And so, the main purpose of this project is strengthen the support and sustainability mechanism that we began to build in the last project. We realized that not coming here to sit with government and CSOs like you is not going to achieve that sustainability mechanism because we alone cannot do it,” Madam Pajibo added. 

She continued: “This project has a timeline; it’s going to expire. After the expiration, what happens? Some of you will stay remain in the active implementation of prison business; some will be out. But we still need people who will continue to process and we need our government to be committed. We see few persons in the government committed but we want holistic involvement that will strengthen the sustainability”.

Madam Pajibo, however, called for a holistic approach from government and partners in helping to provide sustainable support to prisons across the country.

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