A clearing on a hillock overlooking picturesque jungle in northeastern Liberia is a hive of activity, as dozens of workers with hammers and nails, buckets of cement and cement blocks set about constructing the first purpose‐built prison in Sanniquellie, the capital city of Nimba County.
Not far away, amidst stacks of cement blocks, high‐tension steel rods and other construction material, two men are busy tending pots simmering with the mid‐day meal for workers.
A hoarding with details of the project and implementing partners, towers over the men. The prison complex project is a result of a joint initiative by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Ministry of Justice with an almost US$ 1 million grant provided by the UN Peace building Fund (UN PBF). It is being constructed under a contract by the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS).
The new prison will replace an ageing andcramped warehouse‐turned‐prison facility that has for years served as the only holding cell for prisoners in the city. It stands in the middle of an enclosure protected by barbed‐wire and has a small area for recreation facilities.
Prison breaks occurred often, as prisoners were able to easily cut through the barbed wire encircling the compound, or break through the roof. Not built to be used as a prison, the complex also lacked basic facilities.
Over 100 prisoners, including seven women, are currently cramped into the warehouse that is divided into holding cells meant to house 25. There is no running water, functioning sanitation facilities or kitchen. Only two of the six toilets are functioning. A group of prisoners were daily escorted by guards to bring water for the facility from over a kilometer and a half away.
A well was recently dug under a joint initiative by the prison and Red Cross, and is now the source of water for the prison.
“The purpose‐built prison will help address the problem of overcrowding, prison breaks, and ease the pressure on the very limited facilities at the present structure,” says Simon Terbobri, the UN Corrections Advisory Unit representative in Sanniquellie.
The new prison is set in a twelve‐and‐a‐half acre plot of land not too far from the city centre. It will be more secure, and have a series of airy and spacious cells that are designed to comfortably hold 72 prisoners.
There will be running water and several toilets for use by inmates and prison officials. It will also have a separate building that will serve as a kitchen. The UN is also training 20 new prison officers to bolster a nine‐man unit assigned to the facility. It is part of a project to train fifty new corrections officers for Nimba and Monrovia prisons.
The prison complex in Sanniquellie, and training for prison officers is part of a wider effort by the UN to support the Government of Liberia build up its corrections and judicial facilities. The UN is constructing buildings to house courts, providing equipment and vehicles, and training personnel as part of its support to Liberia’s judiciary.