-From Police To Court, Court To Prison (PCP) Project By Regional Watch For Human Rights (RWHR)
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 PRISON–21ST OF TORTURE CHAMBER.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Daniel K. Mawon ( visiting Coordinating Officer)
N. Jonathan Okunola (Monitor)
Anthony Sanchez (Intern)
Tola Thompson Adebayor (Team Leader)