By Kebba Secka
National Human Rights Commission said inmates at Mile Two Prison have reported to them that their cells re infected with bed bugs.
In what the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) describes as fulfillment of its mandate and functions under Section 12 of National Human Rights Act, 2017 in regards to protecting fundamental human rights in the Gambia, the commission between 24 and 26 of November, 2020 visited Mile II state central prison, Janjanbureh in Central River Region and Jeshwang Prison and Juvenile Wing in the Kanifing Municipality.
This latest visit aimed to follow-up on the observation and findings made by the commission between 12th and 13th December, 2019.
The commission indicated in its findings that it places prison rights and welfare among its key priorities and noted that there were marks of improvements in the conditions, welfare and treatments of inmates in some of the prisons.
However, it also outlined that much needs to be done to meet the expectation of the state obligations in respect to the United Nations Minimum Standard for Prisons as well as the need for the government to increase her budgetary allocations to the prison services and police force.
The commission also recommended the building of new prisons, improving sanitary facilities in all prisons and police stations as well as providing better health care and vocational training for inmates. The commission’s visit focused mainly on conditions of detainees at prisons and police stations, access to medical needs, sanitary conditions and provision, challenges of authorities and compliance with international standards.
FINDINGS AT JESHWANG PRISON
There are two cells in the Remand Wing, convicted and Juvenile Wing and fourteen cells in the Security Wing. The cells are communal. Convicted and remand prisoners are locked 24 hours a day because of the poor perimeter fence causing insecurity. There is also overcrowding in the adult cells. Furthermore, there are thirty-five (35) and thirty-seven (37) remanded prisoners in cell one and two respectively. These cells according to the monitoring and evaluation report of the commission are adequately ventilated.
However, in the commissioners’ one on one interview, inmates reported bed bug infestations, long court cases and few mattresses. There are two Juvenile cells with the capacity to keep fifteen (15) prisoners. Remanded and Convicted prisoners are kept in the same cell. Female juveniles are not allocated to any specific cell, but kept at the Shelter for children in Bakoteh which is run by the Department of Social Welfare. The toilets in the Juvenile Wing are cleaned unlike the shared convicted prisoners. There is inadequate supply of hygienic materials as each prisoner is given one bath soap for a week and not enough water supply. The sewage disposal system is in a poor state and leaks pungent water which prisoners and officers live with.
ON THE COVID 19 PROTOCOLS
All prisoners have been tested and received negative results before joining their counterparts. No prisoner is reported positive during the visit and covid-19 protocols were observed though, wearing of face mask was not mentioned. It was noted that there was a mosque for Muslims, but no Chapel or Church for Christians in the prison.
ON MEDIC CAPACITY
The commission found out that there were no trained nurses or medical officers to serve as medic. The commission explained in its findings that the “medics have no appropriate professional qualifications.” Also, there was no ambulance and no set procedures for emergency medical evacuation. Staff are also untrained in key human rights issues.
ON THOSE WHO HAD RUN-IN WITH THE LAW
The longest serving remand prisoner is charged with murder since 2013 and his last court appearance was on February 3rd, 2020. The court is yet to finally decide on the case. In the Juvenile Wing, two are convicted for breaking and stealing and are serving three years and seven months. They were sentenced by the Children’s Court. Other prisoners that were interviewed were charged with the similar offence of breaking and stealing and their matters are still being heard.