The Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Justice, with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR), Swedish Embassy and Irish Aid on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, launched the Prison Act in support of the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (BCR) quest for Autonomy.
The proposed act will allow BCR to have full ownership and control of prison management and all matters relating to prison budgetary allotments, correctional personnel, welfare of prisoners, and the infrastructure development of prisons.
It will also improve existing administrative and operational tools, as well as strengthen security for effective prison management; establish a functional prison industry to successfully support the rehabilitation of inmates and help to generate revenue for government.
Speaking at the launch, Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean expressed gratitude to UNDP, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and other partners for their efforts at ensuring that BCR reaches autonomy.
This effort, according to Cllr. Dean, is laudable and will ensure that, at the end of the day, emphasis would have shifted from just correction to rehabilitation of offenders.
“So, we don’t just want to reform the character but we want to direct our efforts at preventing reoffending, hence our request for autonomy to reform our correctional system,” he said.
Cllr. Dean said the draft act has a declaration of principle and this declaration says it is to emphasize the need to ensure care, custody and control, respect for gender equity.
According to Cllr. Dean, testing general corrections power, only in the national correction and rehabilitation service and in no other agencies, unless expressively provided by statute, ensuring that no public or private security agencies or entity shall use the approved uniform of the National Corrections and Rehabilitation Service. The establishment of the BCR, shall be strictly non-partisan and shall exercise power and function exclusively at the service of the Republic of Liberia.
The act, according to Cllr. Nyenati Tuan, Deputy Minister of Justice for Codification, is aimed at making BCR’s needs more attractive to current and potential donor funding opportunities; and increase the number of qualified personnel to effectively manage prisons in the country.
Cllr. Tuan said limited human resource capacity to conduct effective prison management, lack of effective programs to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders; inadequate prison infrastructure and logistical supports; are current major challenges that they are faced with.
Other challenges, he said, include the overcrowding in prisons, particularly by pre-trail detainees; lack of an effective prison industry to support budgetary allotments to the Bureau; and lack of a correctional training academy for manpower development, respectively.
“So, with the establishment of this autonomy, our vision is to have a secure society through the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners. The Bureau of Corrections shall contribute to Liberia’s security and ensure the care, control, and custody of prisoners in a humane manner and strive to rehabilitate them for reintegration into society, so that they demonstrate and maintain a law-abiding lifestyle after release,” Cllr. Tuan added.
Other remarks were made by the Liberia National Bar Association; Independent National Commission on Human Rights; ECOWAS and the United Nations Human Rights; respectively.