By Varney Kamara
Monrovia-Prison Fellowship Liberia, a local non-governmental group working to provide help and healing for prisoners throughout the country today vowed to ensure the prosecution of all alleged perpetrators of rape and other human rights violations across Liberia.
The group which also assists inmates in the country get access to justice through volunteers, education and restorative justice programs, mentoring, and legal assistance, announced it would shortly launch a legal aid document that would speed up access to justice, as well as reducing over- crowdedness of prisons.
“We will ensure that all rapists are prosecuted across the country. Rape is a serious crime against humanity, especially girls, and women. It demoralizes their person and marginalizes them within the society,” Rev. Kollie informed a team of journalists in Monrovia today.
His comments came as rape cases swell to an unprecedented level and get stalled at various court dockets across the country. This year alone, between 400 to 500 rape cases have been recorded across the country, Rev. Kollie informed this news outlet.
Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount counties are said to have accounted for the highest amount of rape cases this year. He said the speedy adjudication of rape cases would also enhance access to justice as well as ending the culture of impunity.
Rev. Kollie also intoned that Prison Fellowship Liberia intention is to ensure that prison conditions are improved at various prison centers across Liberia.
A report released this year by Amnesty International exposed appalling conditions faced by inmates. It says some prison conditions in Liberia are so poor that they violate basic human rights with inmates crowded into dirty cells without adequate food, water or healthcare, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.
“Inmates can suffer permanent damage to their physical and mental health as a result of their incarceration and most haven’t even been convicted of a crime – they’re simply waiting for a trial date. There was no running water in any of the prison facilities we visited and the smell of sewage is overwhelming in most of the cells,” said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.
The Amnesty International survey, also captured some limited progress made by the Liberian Government and partners, but largely called on the GOL (Government of Liberia) to do more in terms of providing inmates’ basic needs.
Severe overcrowding in some prisons has a serious effect on the health and safety of prisoners. Monrovia Central Prison, Liberia’s largest, was designed to hold 374 inmates but in July 2011 when Amnesty International visited it was holding 839 prisoners. In some cells there isn’t room for all inmates to lie down at the same time so they sleep in shifts.
Due to a lack of floor space some inmates had created makeshift hammocks made of grain sacks slung three or four metres above ground. Prisoners and staff said people sometimes break their ribs or dislocate their shoulders falling from the hammocks at night.
Bedding is scarce and inmates often do not have a mattress or blanket. Almost all inmates complained of body aches because they had to sleep on the floor, which is worse in rainy season when the floor is cold and damp.
Under Liberian law, prisoners must undergo a basic health assessment when they come to prison, but this simply isn’t happening, some inmates informed this news outlet, a situation Prison Fellowship Liberia, through its partners, has been helping to address across the country.
“We don’t want a situation where pre-detainees continue to stay in the prisons and those places are getting outnumbered by the day. We need to find a way out very quickly as inmates continue to be under serious threat of disease outbreak at those prison centers,” Rev. Francis Kollie said.
The human rights campaigner also announced the group will launch a legal documentary shortly, which he said is intended to bring access to justice up to speed. “We will launch this legal aid in the first quarter of the next year,” Rev. Kollie announced.
“This is also intended to reduce the over-crowdedness of our prisoners in this country, and ensure that our people justice anywhere and everywhere in this country.”
There are 16 prison centers across Liberia. However, human rights campaigners say conditions at those centers is extremely appalling. “We need to avoid a potential threat of disease outbreak at the prison centers,” Rev. Kollie insisted, announcing his group’s plan to collaborate with the government to resolve most of the problems faced by inmates, especially female inmates, many of whom often face running stomach, severe stomach pain, diarrhea, malaria, due to poor maintenance.
“According to our records, we have 3,000 prisoners across this country,” Rev. Kollie disclosed. “Of this number, 866 of them have been released this year through the intervention of Prison Fellowship Liberia. We also have 200 female inmates among them and, most of them, through our legal aid program, have been reintegrated into society.
Rev. Kollie also announced that over 200 female inmates have been reintegrated into the society and are making great impact in their communities through the acquisition of basic skills they’ve acquired through the Prison Fellowship Liberia intervention.
“Through our legal aid program, these inmates have been released and have been reconnected with their families,” he says as he announced the group’s prisoners’ beautification project which is slated for next week.
“Beginning next week, we would begin “Beautification of female Prisoners across the country, beginning with Montserrado, Margibi, and Bong Counties,” Rev. Kollie also announced. The purpose of the exercise, he notes, “Is intended to showcase what our female inmates are made of. During this exercise, there would hair dresses, which will allow the inmates to display their beauty.”
“Condition at various prison centers across this country is bad but, we are going to work along with the government in order to improve. We also do this in collaboration with our partners who have been supportive of our projects,” Rev. Kollie concluded.