CSOs Expose Challenges in Criminal Justice System

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Baysah making a presentation at the forum.

Report says prisons overcrowded, inmates need better treatment

The Liberian government and its international partners, especially the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), may have done a lot to improve the country’s Criminal Justice System (CJS), but the system is still faced with a multitude of challenges, latest reports indicate.

Information obtained from the “Providing Access to Justice and Gender Sensitive Legal Awareness at Grassroots Level” project detailed how prison facilities, the courts, the police and communities still have a lot to do in upgrading the country’s CJS.

The project is being implemented by the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) and Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and coordinated by the Finn Church Aid (FCA), with funding from the European Union (EU). The program intends to improve the country’s criminal justice system by training the police, court and prison officers as well as pretrial detainees in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties.

RHRAP executive director Lorma Baysah, who made the presentation last week, said the continued overcrowding of prison facilities, the non-existence of programs that were initiated for the purposes of rehabilitating inmates as well as the low capacity of prisons are making it difficult to separate the categories of inmates, posing grave challenges to the system across the country.

There are no sanitary provisions for female inmates in prison facilities and inmates receive only one meal a day. Inadequate or poor health services provided for inmates are just some of the worst problems the report documented for the CJS.

Some of the challenges that still beset the court component of CJS are the slow adjudication of cases; increased imprisonment of inmates and limited use of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms and probation services by magistrates; inadequate public defenders within the counties; and inadequate logistics to get magistrates to fast track trials.

Police

“Under this project, we have observed that officers of the Liberia National Police have very poor holding cells—poor infrastructure, that is the case with Zorzor,” Baysah said.

He noted that the police also hardly adhere to the 48-hour statutory period for holding suspects and separation of suspects.

“There is inadequate collaboration between the police and the courts. Very poor sanitation in police holding cells resulting to health hazards, and the use of police cells by courts for holding convicts and pretrial detainees are just a few of the many malpractices we continue to encounter,” stated the report.

The RHRAP forum was intended to discuss and share preliminary results from the project interventions and issues affecting the implementation of an effective CJS in the targeted counties. It brought together key stakeholders intended to solicit recommendations, build coalition and consensus in the promotion and protection of the rule of law and fundamental human rights of community residents.

Under the program, RHRAP and its partners provide training and legal representation for pretrial detainees. They also host county and national level meetings, prison and police cells monitoring, and community awareness radio programs.

However, Baysah noted that courts in the targeted counties continue to complain that traditional leaders are interfering in legal/criminal cases. “We had one of those cases in Zorzor where the traditional leaders wanted to take the case out of the court without even using a proper channel,” he said.

Community residents, he said, are also complaining of their inability to meet up with the demand of US$100 bond fees for minor offenses, especially for the most common offense, “disorderly conduct,” leading to increased imprisonment by magistrates.

Key statistics of training provided and legal representation of pretrial detainees

Target Group # of Officers per County M F Total # of Beneficiaries for the 3 counties
Police & Correction Officers Lofa: 46

Bong: 38

Nimba: 45

38

30

38

8

8

7

129
Traditional/Community Leaders Lofa: 30

Bong:30

Nimba:30

20

21

20

10

9110

90
Detainees Lofa: 72

Bong:122

Nimba: 162

71

115158

1

4

4

358

 

 

Target Group # of Beneficiaries per County M F Total #
Judges/Magistrates Lofa: 3

Bong: 4

Nimba: 3

10
Legal Representation Lofa:

Bong:

Nimba:

 

CURRENT STATISTICS OF THE VOINJAMA, BONG AND SANNIQUELLIE PRISONS

Total number of inmates at the Voinjama Prison: 71 although it was built for 40 persons
Pre-Trail: 27

Adult Male: 24

Adult Female: 03

Juvenile Male: 0

Juvenile Female: 0

Convicts: 44

Adult Male: 43

Adult Female: 01

Juvenile Male: 0

Juvenile Female: 0

Total Number

67

04

0

0

Grand Total: 71
Note: The hygienic condition of the Prison facility is good

 

Total number of inmates at the Gbarnga Prison: XXX although it was built for 70 persons
Pre-Trail: 80

Adult Male: 76

Adult Female: 2

Juvenile Male: 2

Juvenile Female:

Convicts: 70

Adult Male: 66

Adult Female: 4

Juvenile Male: 0

Juvenile Female: 0

Total Number
Grand Total 150
Note: The hygienic condition of the Prison facility is good

 

Total number of inmates at the Sanniquellie: XXX although it was built for 72
Pre-Trail: 107

Adult Male: 99

Adult Female:0

Juvenile Male: 1

Juvenile Female: 7

Convicts: 64

Adult Male: 62

Adult Female: 1

Juvenile Male: 1

Juvenile Female: 0

Total Number
Grand Total: 171
Note: The hygienic condition of the Prison facility is good

 

Meanwhile, in spite of the many challenges, RHRAP and its collaborating partners boast of significant achievements during the course of the project.

Some of these achievements include improved record keeping in prison facilities, easy identification of inmates and continued access to legal representation of inmates and detainees; detainees/inmates have access to communication with families and lawyers; and are aware of some basic fundamental rights including self-reporting of violation or respect of their rights; fast track hearing reactivated between the Gbarnga Magisterial Court and Prison Facility to mitigate over crowding in prison facilities; space provided for continuous engagement and interaction between community residents, civil society, police and magistrates; continued advocacy and engagement with the Ministry of Health and other health institutions to supply medication for inmates.

The project implementers have also provided three landline phones and monthly scratch cards for the three prisons in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties so inmates can communicate with relatives and legal representatives.

“We have also provided two Sony cameras for the Lofa and Bong prisons; ledgers for proper record keeping; and we also provided posters and flyers in communities and at prison facilities and police cells depicting the rights of suspects and detainees,” Saybah noted.

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