An inventory and assessment report on the state of Sierra Leone’s prisons has exposed the awful state of Sierra Leone jails.
The report titled: “Behind Wall” was on Thursday handed over to the minister of internal affairs, Pascal Egbenda, by the Executive Representative of the Secretary General (ERSG), Victor Angelo.
The report came as an upshot of a study carried out by the United Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNOSIL) in collaboration with the ministry of internal affairs.
In his statement, the ERSG stated that from August to December 2006, an assessment on Sierra Leone prisons condition was carried out.
Mr Angelo explained that the data was upgraded with recent findings which were outlined in the report.
Highlighting some of the issues that the report touched on, the ERSG stated that “[up to] April 2007, there were 1,693 prisoners all over the country of which 53% are non-convicted [which means they are either on remand or under trial].”
Mr Angelo continued: “such prisoners have suffered from prolong trial which subjects them to be incarcerated for a long period.”
The delay in indictment and trial, the ERSG stated, “has contributed to the overcrowding of prisons,” noting that a number of prisoners had been in prisons for periods of up to two years with no indictment or court appearance.
The ERSG heightened that the punishment imposed was in some instances disproportionate to the crime to the crime, “…there is a wide disparity between the sentencing patterns from district to district.”
Access to justice by prisoners was far fetched, the ERSG explained, “more than 90% of sentenced inmates interviewed stated that they did not have any legal representation during their trials.”
Mr Angelo stated that there were children held in prisons with adult prisoners and under very difficult circumstances, noting that “most of these children are below 18 years, even though records improperly indicate they are above 18”.
As for the physical condition conditions of the prisons, the ERSG said, “the physical conditions are in a deplorable situation. Many prisons do not have windows large enough to allow sufficient natural light, and in all prisons, windows lack wire meshes to protect prisoners from mosquitoes.
Receiving the report, the internal affairs minister stated that the Prisons Ordinance Act of 1961, under which the Sierra Leone Prisons was established, therefore, “gives authority to the department to hold and rehabilitate, without eroding their human right”.
He stated that, “persons who have either been sentenced to prison terms, or are awaiting trial by courts of competent jurisdiction”.
This delicate responsibility positions, the minister said, “Position the Prisons department eminently among many other institutions in the justice security sectors.”
According to the minister, “it goes without saying, therefore that there is a need for Prison department to be effectively functional.”