By Mustapha Jallow
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has recommended promotions of female prison officers who refused to submit to sexual request by senior government officials during their trip to upcountry in ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh’s regime.
“The female officers should be promoted to the levels of their colleagues who were not subjected to any form of harassment or unfair treatment by David Colley. In essence, they should not suffer any disadvantage by reason of their refusal to submit to the unlawful orders and demands of David Colley, former Director General of Gambia Prison Services,” said the commission in a report that was earlier submitted to President Adama Barrow, which is now made public.
Meanwhile, TRRC further recommends that the current government should ensure inspection of prison facilities by competent persons at regular intervals to ensure that the facilities are hygienic, safe and fit for human habitation.
It said Fanta Sanneh and Buba Jatta should be recognised for the good services rendered.
The commission continue to recommend that there should be a remand wing for the female prisoners isolated from the Female Wing where convicts are held, saying female prisoners should be held in the least restrictive environment possible. Mother and children’s units should be developed and expanded.
“A proper cell needs to be provided for the female inmates in Janjanbureh Prison. Skills learning facilities should be provided for the female prisoners,” said the report.
TRRC said the military personnel stationed at the Security Wing of Mile II Central Prison should be removed from the prison and returned to the barracks, saying the NIA’s spy agency or any other security institution should not be given direct administrative responsibility over a prison or any part of it, except administrative oversight thereof.
“No one should be given access to the prisons/prisoners, except in accordance with the law,” said the report.
According to the truth commission, the government should provide adequate subvention to the prison service in order to improve the food, maintenance and general hygiene of the prison. It added that government should also put in place rules in order to ensure that the prison service is not used as an institution for torture.
“The salaries and emoluments of prison officers are too low, which encourages corruption and trafficking by prison officers. The government should augment these salaries, at least to the same level as the salaries of police/military officers,” the commission report said.
It further stated adequate resources should be provided for food and medication, adding that the prison diet should be reviewed and improved to a sufficient standard of adequate wholesome food, such that prisoners are provided with three balanced meals a day.
However, the commission continues to recommend that all cooks and food handlers who work in the prison, should always be given the appropriate training necessary to be able to discharge their responsibilities effectively and efficiently.
“The government should put in place a system to provide regular medical check-ups for cooks and food handlers in order to ensure that they are healthy and do not transmit communicable diseases. All prisons should be equipped with modern cooking facilities,” said the commission final report.
Furthermore, commission recommends that the prison service should enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health to attach qualified health personnel in the various prison clinics and provide adequate/ appropriate training for prison staff attached to the clinics.
“All prisons should be provided with adequate quarantine cells to contain infectious diseases. Alternatively, persons suffering from such diseases should be removed from prison and placed under adequate care until they recover to continue their prison term. This is even more critical now in view of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said the report.
The report adds that each prison should be provided with an ambulance for quick and easy referrals to the nearest health facility, saying justice sector personnel should conduct capacity-building training for their staff to fast-track remand and appeal cases so as to ensure that persons in remand do not spend more time than necessary in jail, thereby reducing overcrowding in the prisons.
It said existing sentencing guidelines should be reviewed and revised in order to avoid imposing long custodial sentences for misdemeanour and other petty offences – especially those committed by young persons.
Meanwhile, the truth commission continues to recommend that the state should develop alternative systems of imprisonment – such as probation and community service – to ease overcrowding in prison.
“The prison service should provide skills, literacy training and microfinance with a view to creating sustainable livelihoods and decent jobs, rehabilitating prisoners and creating behavioural change to prevent prisoners from going back to prison. These measures can go a long way in reducing crime rate,” said TRRC.
Mile II Prisons, a dark detention centre, where inmates have been brutally tortured or sexually tortured by prison officials, NIA’s spy agents or a paramilitary group known as ‘Junglers.’
During dictator Jammeh’s rule, he would refer the prison centres as his ‘five star hotel,’ where death row prisoners undergo inhuman treatment, severe beatings, including sexual tortures before handing them over to a hit squad constituted by the dictator for execution.
Sometimes, a citizen, an official or a member of security force can be arrested and thrown in prison, alleging them of unfounded crimes or opposing Jammeh’s regime.
Mile Two Prison was once described as the most cruelest prisons, where detainees, political prisoners or suspected prisoners are brought into a torture-cell and administered with different amount of beatings, tortures and the prisons authority watch them suffer or sometimes die.
The commission shows that several prisoners and detainees were beaten and tortured inside and outside the premises of the Mile II Prisons.
David Colley, ex-director general of prisons, who had long been accused of torture, abuse of prisoners or sexual abuse of female prison officers, has been implicated in the report and the commission has also recommended for protection of prisoners from torture and other human rights abuses.