Reports say the land was donated to the Government of Liberia (GOL) to build a maximum prison and for relocation of the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP) to that area.
MCP is famously known as ‘South Beach.’
Unlike the MCP, the new facilities, if completed, would host adults and not juveniles.
MCP is located at the southern end of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, along the Atlantic Ocean.
Groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the new prison facilities in Cheesemanburg took place over the weekend, with Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and other local and foreign dignitaries in attendance.
Madam Fatu Daramy-Mensah, a consultant for the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), introducing the occasion, stated that the present structure, which houses the MCP, has served the nation for over half a century. She further stated that it has exceeded its purpose, “both by its over-crowdedness and limited land space to enhance the quality of life for inmates.”
Madam Daramy-Mensah disclosed that the facilities would be specifically designed and built for prison use so as to enhance the rehabilitation of inmates.
Making remarks on behalf of the elders of the Township of Cheesemanburg, Rev. Shedrick Cassell, said the idea of constructing such a ‘massive’ structure will help bring light to their Township, which he said has been in “complete darkness” for years.
Rev. Cassell further stated that when the news of constructing prison facilities in Cheesemanburg was broken to them, there were mixed feelings and reactions from the villagers, who had met to discuss the request of the Ministry of Justice.
“Most of us were afraid that any of those hardened criminals could breakout of prison one day and harm our people,” Rev. Cassell said.
He stated, however, that it was not until authorities of MOJ sat with them in a meeting and explained to them the importance of the prison facilities that are going to be constructed on the land.
He promised the land donated to the GOL through MOJ would be increased, depending on “The kind of good developments that we will see on the first 30 acres.”
He asked the MOJ to prioritize employment of the youths of his township when construction works begin.
He said most of the community youths, who are former fighters, had already been trained among others, in carpentry, masonry and plumbing through the United Nations-sponsored rehabilitation program for former combatants.
For his part, Mr. Louis Aucoin, Deputy Representative of United Nations Secretary General (DRSG) for the Rule of Law of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said it was the first time Montserrado County can build prison facilities.
He said the facilities would secure the containment of prisoners as protection for society.
He further stated that at the prison, inmates would be rehabilitated so that when they leave the prisons, they would have new skills and mindset to become contributing members of the society to which they are returning.
DRSG Aucoin said when the facilities, which first phase construction is put at US$800,000, are completed, they would help get raid of what he termed as “rate of recidivism, which has been a constant concern not only for those working in the prison facilities but for the society at large.”
He further said the UN recognizes that improved prison facilities are essential components in the reform and strengthening the rule of law in Liberia.
“In recognition of this, support for the new facilities has been provided by the [UN] Peace Building Fund,” he stated.
Mr. Aucoin intoned that the new facilities will strengthen the correction system in Liberia in many ways including reducing overcrowding in existing facilities and suitable separation of vulnerable groups within the prison population in line with recognized human rights standard.
However, the UN Diplomat said the new facilities are just one step to reducing overcrowdings in Liberia’s prisons. He added that concrete actions need to be taken to reduce the rate of pretrial detention. He said such measure remains “imperative.”
“As example, Monrovia Central Prison has a current population of more than 980 of which 88 percent are pretrial detainees,” Mr. Aucoin stated.
He added that the MCP was intended for only 350 persons.
For her part, Justice Minister-designate, Cllr. Christiana P. Tah, stated that she is passionate about correction and as such she is not driven or moved by reports coming from human right organizations but by government’s own desires to make sure that people who are incarcerated for any reason are held under humane condition.
She stated that since she was confirmed by the Liberian Senate more than two years ago, she and her team at the MOJ have been striving to relocate the MCP, “which is almost a 100 years old.”
Cllr. Tah said they have tried to expand, improve sanitation, create areas for prisoners yet none of those efforts can improve the situation at the MCP.
According to the Attorney General-designate, MOJ decided that the best option was to relocate somewhere in Montserrado County.
Minister Tah cautioned law enforcement officers not to send more people to jail just because more spaces were being provided.
“We are not trying to build more prisons to incarcerate more people. We are also focusing on community correction because we know that some people’s behaviors can be corrected in the community. That is why we have introduced probation and other programs,” she added.
She, however, admitted that there are some people, who absolutely will force authorities to have them incarcerated and “they will be incarcerated” if they chose to act contrary to the rule of law.
Minister Tah said MOJ had originally looked for 15 acres but were offered 30 acres by residents of Cheesemanburg.
She assured residents that priority would be given to youths of the Township when construction of the facilities starts in terms of jobs.
She mentioned that no juveniles will be incarcerated at the new prison for Montserrado County but only adults.
“We have 30 acres somewhere in Montserrado County, where we are looking for money to build a facility for juvenile,” Justice Minister Tah disclosed.
The Minister said they will use portion of the land for prisoners to raise crops for their (prisoners’) food.
Just before he did the groundbreaking, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai stated that the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government is unwavering in its commitment to uproot and combat crimes in Liberia.
VP Boakai further said that during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s inauguration, the President signaled a new path that endorses mutual respect for the rule of law.
VP Boakai: “Today, I want to remind all of us of the sacred duty of the State: the protection of lives, personal properties and to ensure that all of us live in peace in Liberia.”
The Liberian Vice President said that never again will Liberia be ruled by men and armed gangs but by laws.
Speaking with the reporters after the groundbreaking, VP Boakai said the new prison would help rehabilitate prisoners, thereby making them better citizens.
He warned that Government won’t relent in incarcerating anyone who would force law enforcers to do that. He, however, add that it was not the intention of Government to send anyone to prison.
On maintaining the new facilities, the Vice President said Government would look for the money to maintain the area, “But the first thing is to construct the facilities.”