Rev. S. SainlesehKwaidah, Director of Prisons at the Ministry of Justice discloses that due to poor health services and congestion at the Monrovia Central Prison and other prison facilities in the country, bed-bugs commonly known here as ‘chains’ are taking over these institutions, posing serious threat to inmates.
“Bed bugs or ‘Chains’ are gradually taking over the Monrovia Central Prison because of the continued deteriorating health condition of the prison, over-population of prison facilities in the country is a major challenge; there is no budget allocation for inmates’ health within the Ministries of Health and Justice for prison facilities in Liberia,” Rev. Kwaidah laments.
He raised the alarm during a one-day meeting held at Corina Hotel in Sinkor on Friday, December 18, 2020 where over 15 Civil Society Organizations gathered to identify structural solution to prison’s health and a collaborative problem-solving initiative.
According to the Director of Prisons, over-population of prisons is one of the major challenges threatening inmates’ health besides shortage of medication.
He notes that one of the issues that is causing over-crowdedness of prison facilities is that two-thirds of the total number of prisoners and beyond are pre-trial detainees, adding that most of those cases are individuals who were accused of rape and minor crimes.
Rev. Kwaidah reveals that only six out of 16 prison facilities in the country have clinics with assigned health workers from the Ministry of Health that report for duty daily, while the rest receive scheduled visitations.
Her continues there is only one ambulance for all 16 prisons, making it difficult for prisoners to be transported under protective custody for treatment whenever they are sick.
Statistics from the Monrovia Central Prison shows the facility was constructed for roughly 300 prisoners but to date, it holds over 1,261 prisoners.
Several prominent members of the Civil Society note that for years now the health system at prisons in Liberia remained deplorable; adding that prisoners are among the most vulnerable people in the society.
The express bluntly that the Government of Liberia is paying little or no attention at all, to prisoners and prison facilities because the authorities seem to believe substandard and less care is another way of punishing prisoners.
Addressing the one-day meeting, human rights activists and lawyers said the health condition of prisons in Liberia remains a major concern, as prison facilities deteriorate on a daily basis.
It was disclosed during the forum that meal prepared for prisoners can’t nourish those inmates who are sick because of poor condition of the food, and sometimes it becomes impossible for prison officials to even get funds to purchase food for the inmates because of huge bureaucracy.
The Ministry of Health Prison Focal Person, Ernest Davis says there is no budgetary allotment within the Ministry of Health for prisons’ health services across the country, so lack of drugs at prison facilities in Liberia affect inmates’ survival.
Mr. Davis explains due to the lack of ambulances at prisons across the country, inmates are being transported on motorbikes, and often, correction officers have to walk with prisoners to health facilities in rural areas.
The purpose of the meeting, according to the Rural Human Rights Activists Programme (RHRAP) Executive Director, LormaBaysah, is to highlight need for Civil Society Organizations to identify structural solutions to prison’s health and a collaborative problem-solving initiative for prison facilities in Liberia.
Baysah recalls that after two years of working to build the capacities of the Police and correction officers, it is time all CSOs come together and advocate for the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation to become autonomous.
According to him, if the Bureau is separated from the Ministry of Justice, those structural issues will be addressed and fundamental rights of inmates prioritized.
“There is a need for civil society intervention in buttressing government’s efforts on the prison health, though it is not their responsibility. This may include more support to the BCR from CSOs and partners for the Bureau to secure its semi-autonomy. This will enhance prison operations in a robust manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, the one-day meeting on strengthening the human rights of prisoners within correctional facilities and at grassroots level in Liberia program is being implemented by the Rural Human Rights Activists Programme (RHRAP) and Serving Humanity, Empowerment and Development (SHED) with funding from the European Union (EU). Editing by Jonathan Browne