Liberia’s Death Trap Prison Conditions – A Shameful Trend

A RALLYING CRY by Supreme Court Chief Justice Francis Korkpor; urging magistrates to avoid illegal detention which has been contributing to the massive overcrowding of the Monrovia Central Prison is long overdue but welcomed.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE’S CALL comes just days after he visited the imprisonment facility to acquaint himself with activities there.

IN OTHER PARTS OF Liberia, conditions are similar. The Sanniquellie Central Prison in Sanniquellie City, Nimba County for example, faces serious congestion as the 70 capacity prison now accommodates nearly 200 inmates.

ACCORDING TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE, the Magistrate Sitting Program was designed to fast-track cases that involve pre-trial detainees but conditions have not improved as the prison, built for a little over 300 prisoners now has an estimated 2,203 prisoners.

EVERY YEAR, THE dilapidated condition of the prison has been a regular feature in the United States Department of State Human Rights Report which continues to slam the “harsh and at times life-threatening” prison conditions in Liberia due to overcrowding.

BESIDES THE OVERCROWDING issue, prisoners are also enduring food shortages, lack of sanitary facilities, inadequate medical care, inadequate space, bedding and the lack of mosquito nets.

NO PRISON in this modern age should be operating nearly three times its 375-person capacity because of the large number of pre-trial detainees. This is simply unacceptable and needs the urgent attention of the government.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia forbids torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment against any citizen. In spite of all this, Police officers and other security officials allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidate persons in Police custody to extort money, out of personal animosity, or for other reasons,” according to the U.S. State Department report.

THIS IS WHY we welcome Chief Justice Korkpor’s assertions that magistrates are turning a blind eye to justice when he lamented: “It appears that you are no longer exercising the Criminal Procedure Law 13.5 and you are still sending people to jail, the Liberia  people are crying from this and you have to stop that, don’t keep people in jail who are not  to be there” said Chief Justice  Korkpor.

ACCORDING TO THE Criminal Procedure Law Chapter 13.5, a magistrate or judge should use his/her discretion to allow for a lawyer or prominent individual in the community to sign for a defendant when the need arises.

TODAY, SCORES of innocent Liberians are occupying the notorious prisons simply because their case has not come up on the docket or because some big shot with money filed a complaint for petty and misdemeanor crimes.

SADLY, MANY of those in authority today who were victims of past governments that maimed and torture innocent bystanders or political prisoners. Today, they are standing by and idly watching as many Liberians rot in prison for very little vices.

CHIEF JUSTICE KORKPOR IS right but as head of the judiciary, he needs to go further in ensuring that his call to magistrates is heeded to the core.

THE BOTTOM line is, too many people in power are taking advantage of lapses in the judicial branch and the justices system for their own good to the detriment of Liberia’s image.

LIBERIA AT 169, is the oldest country on the continent of Africa. It is sad that we continue to lag behind on everything, particularly the pursuit of justice.

THE JUDICIAL branch owes much to Liberia to ensure that the archaic laws and punishment of the past have no place in this modern age. This is why everything must be done to ensure that we put our words into action by implementing the law to the fullest and ensuring justice and human rights for all; and not just the few powerful at the top of the ladder.

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