Prison Fellowship Liberia Executive Director, Rev. Francis Kollie, has expressed dismay over what he calls government’s failure to prioritize the rehabilitation inmates in the country.
Rev. Kollie wants portion of the County Development Fund allotted for the rehabilitation of inmates after they serve their terms. He believes this will help transform inmates into productive citizens, instead of becoming drug addicts and armed robbers.
He stressed that inmates could pose danger to society if they were not rehabilitated through effective reform programs.
The Prison Fellowship head spoke at the weekend during a one-day workshop for attorneys and magistrates intended to strengthen partnership between his institution and the Judiciary.
Rev. Kollie called on lawmakers to consider the rehabilitation of inmates and prison facilities in their respective counties to ensure that people behind bars when released, can become useful to society.
In a separate development, Prison Fellowship Liberia has called on government through the Ministry of Justice to establish Juvenile courts to tried juvenile cases.
Rev. Kollie said lawyers; magistrates must be trained to defend juveniles to ensure total democracy and good governance. He added that every county must have juvenile lawyers and magistrates effectively handle juvenile cases.
Chartered in 1989, PF Liberia seeks to provide help and healing for prisoners throughout the country. With the help of volunteers, education and restorative justice programs, mentoring, and legal assistance are available to inmates.
The Fellowship is working with the American based Carter Center, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and other local and international humanitarian institutions on several programs, including Access to Justice and PFL Scholarship Scheme.
In a country with only 300 lawyers for an estimated 3.5 million people, PF Liberia’s Legal Aid program offers hope to those being held illegally on pre-trial detention, he noted.
The volunteer lawyers and lay people, active in four main prisons, collect data on the prisoners in need of assistance, identify necessary evidence and witnesses for court proceedings, and offer mediation services as an alternative mechanism for processing the case.
According to Rev. Kollie, innocent until proven guilty does not mean much for the nearly 800 prisoners, who are crowded into the dirty, dank prison cells of Liberia’s Monrovia Central Prison. Most have yet to be convicted of a crime, some charged with offences as minor as not paying a bill, but they have languished here for years without a trial.
By Ethel A. Tweh