Prisons should not be envisaged as Punishment Centres – Says HR Committee

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By: Kebba AF Touray

The National Assembly Select Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters said prisons should not be envisaged as punishment centres, but should be construed as correctional and rehabilitation centres.

The committee made this recommendation in the phase two report of their oversight visit to detention centres across the country.

The oversight visits aimed at enhancing the understanding of the committee members onconditions of detention facilities, conditions of cells, sustenance, hygiene and medication for inmates.

The committee specifically made this challenge following their visit to the country’s State Central Prison (Mile II).

The report was tabled before the plenary by the member of the committee and member for Wuli East Constituency, Hon. Suwaibou Touray.

The committee has conducted its second visit to the State Central Prison to gather more information on the conditions of the inmates and the officers posted at the Prisons facilities.

The committee stated that they visited the Central Prison to gather more information on the conditions of the facility ranging from their living conditions, health, detention procedures, ruling procedures etc.

At the time of the visit, there were 536 inmates. The team was welcomed by the Director General of the prison and his team.

According to the committee, during their visit to Mile Two Prison, the Director General informed them that the Prison Act is old and needs reviewing, and the GPS secured mattresses for the inmates through support from partners and donors.

“The DG informed us that the clinic has improved with the help of UNDP. There is an acute shortage of prison cells, leading to the transfer of convicted inmates to the Jeshwang prison and others to the remand wing. The remand wing is presently in a very bad condition for human habitation,” the committee relayed.

The committee further said that the DG of Mile Two Prison also informed them that there is one Juvenile centre in the Gambia located in Jeshwang where all the inmates underage are kept, and that trainings are conducted at the prisons for inmates

The DG as indicated by the committee, explained that the facility conducted training for the inmates in the areas of information technology, tailoring and plumbing.

The committee reported “The DG said that the challenges facing the centre are no fumigation of the premises and this is not safe for the inmates, no special place for pregnant inmates and nursing mothers, premises allocated for prisoners are horrible for human habitation, and there is stagnant water all over the place, which could attract more mosquitos.”

The committee stated that the DG also informed them that the challenges include prison officers felt that they are being left out in the exercise of the President’s prerogative of mercy; transportation of inmates on trial to court is affected by the low allocation of fuel, acute shortage of uniforms for officers and convicts and separate facility for sick people. 

The DG also stressed that no office for human rights is established in the prison and only few officers are schooled with human rights act, adding that slow justice dispensation has been a challenge for some inmates that have been there for several years and only appeared in court once, as inmates are in dire need of legal aid.

The committee averred that the DG further highlighted that the inmates also complained that lunch is served very late.

The committee thus concluded that proper, effective, and efficient care for detention facilities is a fundamental requirement for the respect of human rights and dignity of detainees.

“Prisons and detention centres cannot and should not be envisaged as punishment centres, but correction facilities. It is thus important to promulgate rules and practices to make prisons and detention facilities fit for purpose, as per domestic and international rules and standards,” the committee challenges.