Dungeon Of Pain, Agony & Death – RWHR Describes Monrovia Central Prison

-From Police To Court, Court To Prison (PCP) Project By Regional Watch For Human Rights (RWHR)

INTRODUCTION

From  Police  to  Court  and  from  Court  to  Prison  (PCP)  project  is  weird;  it  is  a  combination  of  three departments/units of  Ministry  of  Justice  to  authenticate  the  persistent  congestion/overcrowdings  of prisons across the length and breadth of Liberia; a stratagem used to unearth the causative elements that exacerbate prison congestion.

The  International  Community  venture  into  Liberia  civil  crisis  by  the  United  Nations  Mission  in  Liberia  (UNMIL)  has  significant  impact  on  the  nation  in  all  ramifications;  its  modus  operandi  could  be  used,  if  maintained by the GOL to strengthen its democratic governance, justice system, economic development, as  well as lasting peace.

The presence of UNMIL in Liberia created magnificent road map supposedly to heal the  wounds,  reconciling  its  citizenry  to  assuage  the  anger  of  the  aggrieved  populace  by  strengthening  its judicial system through series of programmes implemented. Regrettably UNMIL’s departure in March 2018 left  some  gaps  struggling  to  be  filled  till  date,  as  a  matter  of  fact  the  widening  gaps  was  due  to  the abandonment  of  rule  of  engagement  by  the  Government  of  Liberia,  leading  to  the  total  collapse  of  the system and down to zero level.

Sometime in 2015, Regional Watch for Human Rights (RWHR) took the initiative of visiting of five (5) prison compounds  in  five  counties  of  Bong,  Margibi,  Grand  Bassa,  Bomi  and  Montserrado  to  access  the  prison conditions  in  order  to  ascertain  the  standard  practice  with  other  international  bodies,  specifically  the “Mandela Rules” commonly called Prison Holy Bible or Holy Koran.

During the course of inspection RWHR unearthed numerous and terrible inhuman treatments meted against the inmates by the government and its state actors in the prisons.  These include overcrowdings, degrading and inhuman treatments, inadequate of food supply and medication etc. The report was titled: LIBERIA PRISON21ST OF TORTURE  CHAMBER.

BACKGROUND:

Liberia,  a  population  of  about  5  million  has  16  Prison  facilities.  Each  County  has  its  own  prison  with  the  exception  of  Margibi  County  that  has  2  prison  facilities  called  Boniway, approximately more  than  2,500 inmates’ nationwide and less than administrative staff of 500 earning fluctuating monthly salary of US$200 to  250  across  the  board,  that  is,  from  Superintendent  to  lower  rank  officers.  Some  of  the  cells  were constructed  to  accommodate  4  or  5  inmates  to  a  block  of  approximately  270  to  300  inmates  supervised  by two correction officers/ warders, which can be attributed to the act of triviality by the successive governments.

Contrary  to  government  promise  to  reform  prison  nationwide  in  July  2011  to  alleviating  the  suffering  of prisoners, the place continues to grow from worse to ridiculous on the daily basis, particularly the Monrovia Central  Prison.  Under  International  Law  and  standard  practice  of  “Mandela  Rules”,   regardless  of  crime committed by person no one shall be subjected to any inhuman or degrading treatment or held in slavery or servitude, articles, 1V and V of UDHR, Liberia Constitution articles 12, 21sec. c, e and f.

In  this  report  Regional  Watch  for  Human  Rights  (formally  Liberia  Watch  for  Human  Rights)  obtained permit  from  Ministry  of  Justice  via  Bureau  of  Correction  and  Rehabilitation  to  conduct  prison  visitation  to four Counties in order to follow up the gap UNMIL might have left behind, as well as in response to public outcry of appalling prison conditions in Liberia.

Accordingly, RWHR in its “from Police to Court and Court to Prison” (PCP) project discovers that Justice System in Liberia is yet to come to term. Commercialization of  justice  has  been  the  major  cause  of  overcrowdings/congestion  in  prisons  where  Magistrates,  County Attorney  and  Judges  are  capitulated  into  corrupt  practices,  treating  misdemeanor  offenses  with  levity  to demand  money  from  the  offenders  or  get  rotten  in  prisons  if  he  or  she  cannot  meet  up  with  such  demand; first degree felonious crimes such as armed-robbery, rape, murder etc are being used to keep offenders Sleeping at risk at the Monrovia Central Prison (from sleep to death)   behind bars for more than 4 or 5 terms of court without arraignment. Likewise, complainants do not follow-up cases taken to court (civil offenses), using the court and prison to punish their “perceived enemies” thus given rise to numerous cases on the docket and overcrowding in the prisons. All in all, RWHR discovers some unimaginable terrible things in our prisons;

approximately 90% of Liberia prisons  are  pre-trial  detainees  who  are  being  behind  bars  for  2  to  5  years  without  trial,  that  which  can  be attributed  to  some  sort  of  bottleneck  created  by  magistrates,  County  –Attorney  and  Judges  who  normally conduct  preliminary  proceedings,  while  some  don’t  even  have  case  files  not  to  talk  of  alleged  crime committed by them, these are contrary to Liberian Constitution that says “Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay”.

The most obnoxious and bestial cell at Monrovia Central Prison, known as block “MC” is overcrowded with pre-trial  detainees  of  alleged  rapists  and  other  crimes  of  about  1,013  inmates  for  several  terms  of  court without having a day in the court. Similarly in Bomi and Grand Bassa Counties, pre-trial detainees stand on top of the record with minor offences, such as theft of property, failure to observe the covid- 19 protocol (not wearing mask), pick-pocketing, debts, child supports, etc.

PRISON CONDITION:

The  general  atmospheric  conditions  of  the  prisons  are  at  the  extreme,  specifically  the  Monrovia  Central Prison,  notoriously  known as “South Beach”.  Historically  the  capacity  of  the  Monrovia  Central  Prison  was built to maximally accommodate 374 (three hundred and seventy-four inmates) but overcrowdings/congestion  has  been  the  major  challenge  from  the  time  in  memorial;  the  number  of inmates  at  the  MCP  grows  in  geometrical  progression  unabated  with  the  total  number  of  1,277  (One Thousand, Two Hundred and Seventy-seven) inmates as of August 12, 2021 at the precise hour of 5:45 pm when  we  departed  the  prison  compound.

This persistent overcrowding  is  applicable  to  the  rest  of  the prisons in other counties around the country with various crimes but pre-trial detainees always at the apex. The 4-man delegates from Regional Watch for human Rights visiting MCP witnessed the appalling conditions of the prison, ranging from tight cell with 7 by 8 feet without ventilation accommodating 5 to 7 inmates  where  they  (inmates)  sleep  by  ration  or  by  shift;  4  or  5  persons  sleep  at  a  time  and  wake  up  for other to sleep due to tightness of the cell, eating dried-rice once in a day without soup, while other sleep on the cold floor without mattress or mat. In most cells at the “MB-Block B” the inmates use rice bags as bedding, tying the rice bags from one end to the other like hammock, it is called “chopper”. The same type of  chopper  is  commonly  used  to  convey  goods  from  one  opposite  cells  to  the  others-trade  by  batter system!

PRISON CONGESTION:

The Monrovia Central Prison is daily growing aggravated with little or no effort to alleviate the deplorable conditions of the inmates by the government of Liberia; Bureau of Rehabilitation and Correction (BRC) is no longer  a  place  of  correction  to  rehabilitate  the  inmates  as  the  name  connotes,  rather  a  dungeon  of  pain, agony and death- indeed it is a place of punishment and breeding abode of prospective criminals, some of which become hardened criminals when finished their jail terms especially the convicts sentenced to 10-20 years or life imprisonment.

At the South Beach as it is notoriously called, the worst cell is “MB Block B” with overcrowdings of pre-trial detainees  charged  with  rape,  all  the  cells  are  jam-packed  to  the  extent  that  the  inmates  occupied  the hallway extension to Block “A’’, sleeping on the cold floor with no mattress or blanket, the place is so dark that you would hardly see their faces and the toilets is severely deplorable that some of them use rubber buckets as latrine or toilet, while several of them use rice bags tied (choppers) from one end to the others as beddings because of smallness of the cells

These  deplorable  conditions  of  the  prison,  such  as  overcrowdings/congestion,  insanitary  condition  of  the cells (in various blocks), inadequate supply of safe drinking water, food and medication  render the inmates vulnerable  to  series  of  illness  and  sickness;  hundreds  of  the  inmates  are  infected  with  different  kinds  of sickness including scabies, anneal, pneumonia and appendicitis. In the same cells you will find mentally sick men and women, while more than five (5) inmates are blind and the death- toll rose to (6) six persons from January of this year to the present.

Block  ‘’D’’  building  is  a  mixture  of  both  pre-trial  detainees  and  the  few  convict  inmates.  The  building  is dilapidated  and  deplorable;  the  cells  are  very  tiny  (7X7  feet)  that  should  moderately  accommodate  not more  than  two  (2)  inmates  but  more than  five  (5)  are  kept  in.  The building  is  the  oldest  structure  built in the  40s  during  the  second  World  War-it  is  a  death  trap  and  the  inhabitants  sit  on  the  timed-bomb  that could explode and collapse any moment.

Block  ‘’F’’  is a big building that starts from” F a to F f”, it was built during the mission of United Nations Mission  in  Liberia  (UNMIL).  Mostly  the  building  on  the  last  floor  accommodates  the  hardened  criminals with different charges of armed-robbers, murders, robbers that have been convicted and sentenced.

Some are there awaiting trials including juveniles. Both first floor and the last floor is appalling in conditions, very dark  and  dirty  with  majority  of  them  sleeping  on  the  floor  without  mattress,  otherwise  using  the  same “choppers” as bedding. Block F has total 380 detainees with only 191 serving their sentences.

FEMALE BLOCK:

The  Female  Block  houses  total  number  of  37  inmates,  out  of  which  pre-trial  detainee  carries  31  and  6 sentenced  on  different  crimes.  All  are  adults  with  the  exception  of  juvenile,  17  years  old  charged  with murder; while a lady from South Africa charged with drug-trafficking is awaiting trial and another lady from Sierra-Leone was charged with human-trafficking, awaiting trial as well.  Compare  to  other  blocks  at  Monrovia  Central  Prison,  female  cells  are  neat  and  tidy  even  though  is overcrowded  as  others; each  cell  contains  5 triple  decker-  beds that  could  only  accommodate  15  inmates but sometimes 22 inmates while others are sleeping on the ground . One of the inmates delivered a baby girl.

FOOD AND MEDICAL SUPPLY:

Inadequate supply of food to feed the inmates and availability of drugs to treat the sick ones are the major challenges in our prison system, in MCP inmates eat once a day without soup; less than half cup of rice is allotted to one person in most of our prison facility round the nation. In terms of medication the inmates survive  at  the  mercy  of  charity  entity,  or  sometimes  the  correction  officers  whose  out  of  their  meagre salary compassionately contribute money together among themselves to buy drugs to treat them (inmates) while sometimes their relatives take the person to government hospitals but compel to underwrite the cost of drugs.

Micro-clinics operating in most of the prisons do not have equipment or drugs: no laboratory test equipment i.e. thermometer, ..  Some churches like Liberty Church, headed by (Dr) Pastor Simeon Dunbar has  the  record  of  donation  of  food  items  and  drugs  to  some  of  the  prisons.  The  Ministry  of  Justice  and Ministry  of  Health  that  have  joint  responsibility  of  catering  to  the  health  care  of  the  inmates  across  the nation abandon the policy. Information gathered reveals that things are not in place again since departure of  United  Nations  Mission  in  Liberia  (UNMIL)  and  similarly  the  ICRC  that  used  to  supply  the  drugs  to  the Bureau of Rehabilitation and Correction (BRC) stopped its assistance to the prisons since 2014.

REHABILITATION CENTRE:

Most of the prison compounds around the country have no facility to rehabilitate the prisoners/inmates, or provide them skills/trade that could be useful for them to reintegrate them back to their various communities (except Zwedru Prison) when completed their terms of sentence: at Monrovia Central Prison, fluctuating  estimate  of  about  1,500  inmates  has  three  (3)  sectors  of  training  centre  including  tailoring, bakery and soap making.

In Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, farming and arts and craft sectors are the only rehabilitation  centre  to  train  the  inmates  and  give  those  hopes  that  there  is  future  for  them  thereafter, especially those inmates serving the sentence of 5 to 10 years jail term (in provided and supported by the correction officers).

Tubmanburg in Bomi Hill County, there is no facility for rehabilitation centre; most of the  inmates  are  left  alone  with  the  correction  officers  who  share  with  them  (inmates)  from  their  meagre salaries.  The  seemingly  abandoned  Tubmanburg  prison  has  been  out  of  light  since  2016:  people  eat  just one meal per day with no drug at all to attend to the inmates when sick. It houses 61 inmates out of which pre-tria l detainee scores 32 and 29 sentenced.

The Cause of Prison Overcrowdings and Congestion:

RWHR’s From Police to Court and from Court to Prison (PCP) project conducted visitation to Police stations to monitoring the cells and then proceeded to the Court’s monitoring and ended its monitoring exercise in the  prisons  with  the  intent  to  establish  the  facts  and  elements  of  veracity  contributing  to the prison’s congestion. In our findings, most of the police cells are less congested (Buchanan, Tubmanburg, Montserrado  County  and  its  environs)  because  Police  seemingly  uphold  and  adhere  to  their  professional ethics  of  charging  suspect  to  court  within  48  hours  as  required  by  law.

Unfortunately,  it  is  clearly  vouch safe to view that our judicial system is outrightly responsible for the overcrowdings of the prisons besides (the  public) the complainants’ abandonment of cases due  to  too  much  expenses  in  the  court  process,  in spite the fact that he or she brought the case before the court.  Secondly, bribery and corruption in our judicial system immensely contributed to prison congestion, which can  be  attributed  to  corrupt  officials  within  the  judicial  system  demanding  huge  amount  of  money  from detainees, particularly County-Attorney and Judges, either to speed up the trial or granting of bail to those.

charge  with  felonious  crimes  of  armed-robbers,  robbery,  murder,  and  rape  and  man-  slaughter.  While some  Magistrates  unjustifiably  send  suspects  to  prison  on  Misdemeanour  offenses  like  failure  to  observe covid-19 protocol (using mask nose), theft of property (stealing of phone or money), child support, assaults etc.  All these can be evidenced in RWHR’s interaction and interview with  some  of  the  pre-trial  detainees who  have  not  been  given  the  opportunity  to  appear  in  court  for  more  than  4  to  5  terms  of  court  in Tubmanburg, Buchanan and Monrovia Central Prisons:

Some of the inmates Interviewed by RWHR’s Team:

“ Me  I  here  more  than  two  years  now,  the  man  I  owe  (restitution)  say  I  muh  go  but  the  judge  say  no  I muh go bring US$1,500. the man even say I suffer enough, if I can just brush around his yard he satisfy with it “ -Hassan Moses in Tubmanburg, Bomi Central Prison.

“ The person that brought me here in prison fini died and since then nobody come to me , nobody go to court,  I just here more than one year six months without trial and I sick now I can’t see no nobody to check on me since the man that put me inside here die”, Black Barclay, Bomi County Prison.

“I gat onion (hernia), it pain me whole day I cry cry no medicine, nothing! The thing na get big na that I can’t walk again just crawling like baby, no one to carry me to hospital” Chris R.  MCP.

“me  and  my  girlfriend  was  together  for  long  time,  the  woman  like  my  business  with  me  cripple  in  the wheel-chair but because of my condition, calling cripple boy, her family say they ain,t wan see me  with the girl; they be then they will separate us, they will find me medicine that will keep me away from their daughter,  then  they  lie  on  me  that  I  rape  her.  I  been  here  more  than  two  years  no  trial,  nothing  I  just here in wheel-chair suffering”, Peter Joe-joe, MCP “I came here with my two eyes ball  open but now I  can’t even go back with  one now, totally blind! Am sick,  am  not  well  y,all    see  me  coming  from  hospital  with  no  drugs,  they  say  I  facilitate  crime  but  the other people have been released, their family paid money to the Judge and the Judge say I muh  give him US$2,500  before  they  release  me  but  what  I  will  get  it  from,  I  Ghana  man  I  have  been  here  more  than five years now. Am completely cripple now, just waiting for God  to kill me one time, this life is wicked, the  Justice  is  wicked  am  already  finished  and  tired  now.  Monrovia  prison  na  place  of  pain,  agony  and death”, Essien J. MCP  “We have three ma

d people here in this block without medicine, they give us hell, I say hell. When these three  guys  ready  the  whole  block  turn  upside  down,  posing  a  serious  danger  to  other  inmates:  people with insanity shouldn’t be in prison, they are not supposed to be here” MCP Correction Officer. “I live in Gbanga Todee me and my two brothers;  they  bring  us  here  in  South  Beach  since  March  24, 2021. They say we are not wearing “nose mask”. We here more than five (5) months they can’t release us they can’t even take us to court”, T. Mary, MCP “Because of  child  support  they  brought  me  here  close  to  one  year  now,  no  trial  they  just  keeping  me here  in  hunger.  Am  not  learning  anything  here,  doing  nothing  how  can  I  support  the  child  in  question behind the bar, when I moving from here now aint learning any good thing” Johnson Baby boy-MCP.

“Me I was sentenced for seven years, since I came here aint learn anything, I don’t know –rehabilitation? Nothing I doing here, when I free from here weting I will be living on, I don’t have any trade, nothing of its kind! Mohammed H. MCP “We can’t sleep well, my friend two legs crippled and bend one side, he cannot walk again because the prison is jam-packed and can’t stretch our feet. We are 14 persons in this small place; we sleep by shift you sleep for 3 to 4 hours we wake you up for other to sleep, standing lean against the wall like bats we say we sleep. We are in total punishment not correction at all, hell is better than this place” W. Joshua-MCP

“Me I fini serve my sentence but they still keeping me in prison because the Judge say I muh bring US$1,500  before  they  can  release  me  and  I  been  here  for  over  five  (5)  years  now.  I  not  working  here, I not doing business where I will get that kind of money. All the times I stay in this South Beach I not learn anything, I wan the government to come to my aid” B. Willimena-MCP.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  Judicial System needs to change her Modus Operandi for speedy trial, overhauling of the entire system is required.

  Liberia Government should prioritize and increase its annual budget allocation to Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation (BRC).

  Re-creation of more Rehabilitation Centres in all prison facilities.

  Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation needs to be autonomous.

  Decongest the Monrovia Central Prison by transfer the convicts and the sentenced inmates to Zwedru Prison in Grand Geadeh .

  Separate  juveniles  from  adults  in  the  cell  and  create  rehabilitation  centre  for  the  juveniles  to  have access to primary education.

  Reactivate and revamp the parole system.

  Improve on MCP facility by renovating some of its structures, pull down “Block D” and rebuild it, renovate  the  building  for  admission,  regular  supply  of  food  and  drugs,  safe  drinking  water  and electricity, including Bomi, Buchannan prisons and others.

  Relocate, or extend MCP to a bigger area to accommodate more inmates and decongest South-Beach.

MONITORING TEAM:

 Daniel K. Mawon ( visiting Coordinating Officer)

 N. Jonathan Okunola (Monitor)

 Anthony Sanchez (Intern)

 Tola Thompson Adebayor (Team Leader)

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About Cholo Brooks 15575 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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