Liberia: Govt Prepares More Room in Prisons Ahead of Dec. 30 Mass Protest

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According to the Assistant Minister for Correction, the recent clemency given by the President created more room for citizens who would cause chaos during the unapproved ‘Weah Step Down’ protest

MONROVIA – Ahead of the December 30 ‘Weah Step Down’ protest, the Assistant Minister of the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice Eddie Trawali says prison facilities across the country remain in tight to correct and rehabilitate individuals planning to thwart the peace and stability of Liberia.

The Council of Patriots (COP), headed by fearless talk show Host Henry Costa, has vowed to stage consistent protests in Monrovia and its environs beginning December 30 until President George Manneh Weah steps down.

The group disclosed that the protest is intended to draw international attention to bad governance, rampant corruption, abuse of power, delay in the payment of civil servants salaries, and the harsh economic constraints that continue to improve the already impoverished conditions of Liberians under the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government.

But speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa on Friday, Minister Trawali disclosed that up to present, the Ministry of Justice has not given the COP any permit to stage a peaceful protest.

He pointed out that the latest executive clemency granted numerous inmates and convicts at prison centers across Liberia by President George Manneh Weah, has created space for the intake of additional inmates who intend to violate the laws of the country.

Minister Trawali added that those hiding under the canopy of exercising their constitutional right without obtaining a permit from the Justice Ministry to get into the streets, will be confined at various prison cells in keeping with the Liberian laws.

“The President has released a little burden on the prison in terms of population. The President has just relinquished a basic capacity volume at the level of the prisons. So, we have space for now. I would like to caution all of our young people-you must not be involved in any violent actions. If you are involved in violent actions, or you want to hide under the canopy of protest or your right, the prisons are available to accommodate you. Under the law, before you assemble, you need a legal authority and it is the Ministry of Justice that will give you that legal authority and protection,” he stated.

The Assistant Justice Minister for Correction and Rehabilitation urged citizens, including officials of the Council of Patriots (COP) to cooperate with the Joint Security Force of the Liberian government.

He maintained that though it is the constitutional right of citizens to peacefully assemble to petition their government, authorities of the Ministry of Justice also have the legal backing to maintain the peace and security in the nation.

Minister Trawali expressed the fear that chaos would erupt if citizens go above their constitutional limit by reneging to obtain a permit as a guarantee for their security and forcibly staged a protest.

“As I speak to you, we have gathered that the Ministry of Justice has not given any authorization on the issue of gathering. So, if you are gathering, you will be gathering illegally. The legal authority is basically for your protection and other people who will be around. Those who are going on the streets, you need to obtain a permit; not only that, you also need to cooperate with the joint security forces because you are our citizens and we are responsible to you. If you go above your limit of the rule of law, it could be chaos; and we don’t want that to happen. We want to say to the public or protesters that you have your constitutional right to assemble but your constitutional right is also grounded by legal principles and values. If you go out of that principles and values, I can safely say to you that, I Eddie Trawali will put in one of our maximum prisons called solid tariff confinement once the law gives me the authority. I am not going to renege on that. That is my responsibility”.      

“The President has released a little burden on the prison in terms of population. The President has just relinquished a basic capacity volume at the level of the prisons. So, we have space for now. I would like to caution all of our young people-you must not be involved in any violent actions. If you are involved in violent actions, or you want to hide under the canopy of protest or your right, the prisons are available to accommodate you. Under the law, before you assemble, you need a legal authority and it is the Ministry of Justice that will give you that legal authority and protection.”

Eddie Trawali, Assistant Minister for Corrections

Executive clemency

Speaking further, Minister Trawali disclosed that President George Manneh Weah has granted executive clemency to about 54 inmates at various prison centers across the country.

He pointed out that inmates and convicts that were pardoned by the Liberian Chief Executive acquired multiple skills in various vocational disciplines.

He disclosed that some of those set free spent above ten (10) years in prison.

Minister Trawali added that inmates who got disabled in prison as a result of frustration or aggression were pardoned by the Liberian Chief Executive. 

“In furtherance to the President Constitution responsibility, Article 59 squarely gives the President the authority to grant clemency to inmates with good behavior at various prisons nationwide. The President visited the Monrovia Central Prison as a symbolic representation of all the prisons; he was able to pardon 54 inmates. The President mentioned that it is the beginning of transformation for many of our people that have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into our society,” he stated.

“Based on the assessment conducted by our Bio-Social Assessment Team, these individuals were qualified for reintegration and re-stratification into the society. Majority of them were provided the necessary skill training including tailoring, soap making, tie and dye. We incubated a new system of fleet management-vehicle maintenance. We had couple of well-trained mechanics and agriculturists from Grand Gedeh County are among those who the President gave executive clemency. They went through prison farming; they can do large scale farming with varieties of crops-they can transform from cassava to gari.”   

Minister Trawali stated that multiple procedures were followed to ensure the release of the inmates and convicts.

The Procedures

He pointed out that assessments are done by several groups of persons assigned at the prison facilities to thoroughly screen and assess the behaviors and rehabilitation of inmates before they are released.

According to him, a social inquiry was also made in the various communities to ascertain whether or not inmates or convicts released would be accepted in their respective communities or the Liberian society at large. 

Minister Trawali said though it is the constitutional responsibility of the Liberian leader to grant clemency or restore the civil liberty of an individual, President Weah did not unilaterally release the inmates without the involvement of other prison officers.

“There is a system set up, and it has been existing since the foundation of correction. You have a team called Bio-Psycho Assessment Analysts. Basically, they are responsible to do cross-evaluation of the behavioral patterns of the inmates at the various prisons. You also have a group of people who work within the various blocks of the prisons called the Blocks Managers. You have the Rehabilitation Team that basically does the assessment process. We have another group of people called Social Psychologists. They are professional people who will also do the evaluation of your mental capacity and state being. They worked in line with Correction Counselors who will work with you to do your counseling” he maintained. 

Minister Trawali furthered: “We have a team of people working on Probation and Parole Services-those practitioners are charged with the responsibilities to do cross-examination of the workings of those inmates. When they do that, they are also charged with the responsibility to do go back to the community to do what we called the social inquiry in the communities. That social inquiry will give the probation practitioner a clear analogy as to whether or not this person who has been corrected in prison could be accepted in society. So, it’s a lot more procedures not just the President going to the prison to say John Brown is going out. All of these procedures were exhausted”.

Prison is not a ‘Five Star Hotel’

Meanwhile, Minister Trawali says prison facilities in Liberia are not a ‘five- star hotel’ to ensure that inmates or convicts have access to a conducive environment.

He maintained that prison compounds serve as a place of correction and rehabilitation, and as such, those violating the laws of the country would be reprimanded accordingly.

“Those that benefitted from the clemency, the minimum was 10 years. A man who spent over 25 years in prison, benefitted from the process. Some of them were completely disabled-inability to move or do any physical agility. Some of them experienced disabilities while in prison-you know, sometimes frustration and aggression. Prison is not a five-star hotel where you will have a suitable or conducive environment,” he added. 

Minister Trawali continued: “The prison is a system and a place of correction and rehabilitation. It is where we correct and reprimand people. We need to be very cautious and mindful of how we process in our daily activities. In prison, you must go through some tough times. Imagine yourself going to prison for 10 to 15 years. You will have a little retrogression in your physical morphology or your physical agility”.

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