Liberia: Gov’t Frees 17 Inmates at Buchanan Central Prison
— “There should be no reason why you keep someone in prison for more than two terms of court,” noted Attorney Johnson.
Grand Bassa County Attorney Randolph Johnson has announced the release of seventeen inmates at the Buchanan Central Prison during the May term of court.
Johnson, on July 7, announced that the inmates were released based on prosecutors' refusal to attend the cases.
“The prison is overcrowded and there are inmates that have been abandoned by their prosecutors,” he said. “It’s against the law to violate the rights of others most especially by keeping them in cells without appearing for prosecution.”
Johnson maintained that the charges against the inmates were dropped in keeping with sections 18.1 and 18.3 of the Criminal Procedure Laws of Liberia. Section 18.1 states that “the state has the right to drop charges against criminals if not attended to,” and Section 18.3 states that “the state has the right to refile the cases if the need arises.”
“There should be no reason why you keep someone in prison for more than two terms of court. If the government cannot draw up an indictment against such a person, that person should benefit from Jail delivery,” he said.
He named simple assault, aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit murder, and disorderly conduct, amongst others, as crimes committed by those inmates that were released.
“We visited the prison compound and realized that a total of 17 inmates needed to be set free on grounds that they have overstayed in a cell without prosecution.”
The Grand Bassa County Attorney used the medium to call on all prosecutors and defense lawyers to be more proactive in adjudicating their cases.
Johnson's actions come two months after Chief Justice Francis Korkpor lashed out at judges for not executing their judicial duties timely — resulting in overcrowded prison facilities across the country.
Chief Justice Korkpor, who is expected to step down this year, having reached retirement age, has in the past been blunt about the ‘rottenness’ of the judiciary.
"Our law provides for speedy trial; there are adequate provisions of law for the adjudication of cases,” the Chief Justice noted while delivering his charge at the opening of the May Term of Courts for the Criminal Courts at the Temple of Justice in Montserrado County. “It is unacceptable and a human rights violation. These are some of the things that are causing overcrowding at prison facilities.
“This needs to stop. It has divided the family. And parents are no longer able to provide for their kids, to pay their school fees, and even house rent, because of the failure to afford them a speedy and fair trial,” Chief Justice Korkpor added. “This paints a negative picture of our justice system.”
The Chief Justice also took his cue from the US State Department Human Rights Report, which re-echoed its accusation against the Liberian judiciary for not providing a defendant an expeditious trial, as provided by law.
The State Department in its 2021 Human Rights Report on Liberia, argued that the use of detention as a punitive measure and the failure of judges to assign court dates are among the problems that have all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention.
“Pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country and 83 percent in the Monrovia Central Prison,” the report said. “In some cases, the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.”
It can be recalled that Buchanan Central Prison Superintendent, Tom Kamala, recently alarmed over the overcrowdedness of the prison facility and pleaded for the government to release inmates with lesser charges who have overstayed.
“As we speak, there are a hundred prisoners in the facility, and the prison was built for 47 prisoners, so if you do your calculation it means that we are running two prison compounds present in the County.”
Kamala said, the overcrowdedness of the prison has been a serious issue that needed to be addressed immediately, or else it could create a health problem.