The Inquirer is a leading independent daily newspaper published in Liberia, based in Monrovia. It is privately owned with a "good reputation".

Do Prisoners Have Rights? The Issue Of Prison Conditions In The Country

By Atty Philip N.Wesseh (PNW)
One story that made headlines in some newspapers last week was about the condition of prisons in the country. It was reported that conditions at these centers were appalling.

This was not based on speculation or rumors, as it came from the “Horse’s Mouth” who is the Prison Focal Person at the Ministry of Health, Ernest Davies and the Director of Prisons at the Ministry of Justice, Rev. Sainleseh Kwaidah.

The Prison Focal Person at the Ministry of Health, Mr. Davies admitted that there is no budgetary allotment within the Ministry of Health budget for prisoners’ health services across the country.

Furthermore, he said the issues of drugs at prison facilities in Liberia is affecting inmates’ survival as well as the lack of ambulances at prisons across the country and explained how inmates are being transported using motorbikes and at most times, correction officers have to walk with prisoners to the health facilities in the rural parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the Director of Prisons at the Ministry of Justice has also disclosed that due to poor health services and over-population of the Monrovia Central Prison including other prison facilities in the country, bed-bugs are gradually taking over prison facilities across the country.

He went on: “Bed bugs are gradually taking over the Monrovia Central Prison facilities and causing the continuous deteriorating health condition of the prisons as well as the overpopulation of prison facilities in the country; now, no budgetary allocation for inmates’ health within the Ministries of Health and Justice for prison facilities in Liberia.”

The Director of Prisons made the disclosure at a one day meeting held at the Corina Hotel in Sinkor recently when over 15 Civil Society Organizations gathered to discuss identifying structural solution to prisoners’ health and a collaborative problem solving initiative.

According to Director Kwaidah, overpopulation of prison facilities in the country is one of the major challenges when it comes to prisoners’ health besides the shortage of medication intended for inmates.

Today I take interest in this matter because since it was reported it did not get the expected reactions from the public, especially human rights community. I am not surprised over this lukewarm treatment of this because some or many do not know that prisoners have rights.

Nauseatingly, for someone being in prison is a punishment therefore, such individuals should not get certain treatment as compared to non-prisoners. But this should not be the reason because those in prisons also have rights in terms of their wellbeing and welfare.

However, there are some limitations or restrictions for certain reasons.

Generally, it is the issue of the wellbeing and welfare and so the condition of our prisons, as articulated by these officials should claim the attention of those concerned.

Frankly, had this been the case of a politician, a journalist in prison facing such conditions, this would have sparked off public outcry and vociferous reactions, some obviously from the human rights community.

Disappointingly, because it does not involve any of those listed, it has not received the needed or deserving reactions. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with such, but we should be concerned about others because they are human beings too. It is sad to be mute on such situation because prisoners do have rights.

They have to be fed; they must receive medical treatment if ill and they must not also be subjected to inhumane treatment, just to name a few. Besides, there should even be rehabilitation programs for them.

Even in the case of prisoners of war, there are certain rules and treatments that must be adhered to or followed. This is why I espouse to the slogan of the International Community of the Red Cross (ICRC) that says,, “EVEN WARS HAVE LIMITS.” It is because of this that some individuals once involved in wars are being held for war crimes.

My experience over the years as a court reporter, prior to going to the Law School, is that there are two groups of people in prison.

One group refers to those in detention awaiting trial, while some of Those cases were referred to as FE (Further Examination), while the others are those who have been convicted for committing a crime and are considered “convicts” with specific punishments, perhaps months or years in prison, as well as life imprisonment.

This is what the Black’s Law Dictionary defines a prisoner, “as person who is serving time in prison or a person who has been apprehended by a law-enforcement officer and is in custody, regardless of whether the person has yet been put in prison.”

I hope the situation from the HORSE’s MOUTH would claim the attention of the appropriate authorities, especially the Ministry of Justice headed by my friend, Attorney General Cllr. Frank Musa Dean to remedy this ugly situation.

I Rest My Case, by saying prisoners do have rights which MUST be RESPECTED.

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