By Tina S. Mehnpaine
Female inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP) have some reasons to jubilate as the People’s Empowerment Program (PEP) over the weekend visited and provided them with basic necessities, including soap, towel, sanitary pads, hand sanitizers, laundry detergent (powder soap), laundry soap and toothpaste.
These materials are especially essential for women as women in general are conscious of hygiene and being in prison without them poses serious embarrassment to them.
With a Social Justice Grant of US$4,000 provided by the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a United States-based not-for-profit Organization, PEP was able to reach out to female prisoners with those items in compliance with the agreement guiding the fund. The need to provide such materials to female inmates will relieve them of hygienic stress.
Richard Seih, PEP Executive Director, said his organization will continue to work with the correction officers at the MCP, to improve the living condition of female inmates through periodic monitoring and distribution of sanitary kits.
He said they visit the prison center quarterly (after every 3 months) to check on female prisoners and provide some words of encouragement for them.
Mr. Seih noted that PEP’s goal is to reduce the high incidents of pre-trial detention cases of females through legal representation and advocacy for a speedy trial.
“Women in prisons are detained for simple offenses such as ‘Disorderly Conduct, Simple Assault,’ offenses for which community services or fewer fines should be imposed instead of detention,” the executive director said.
He said Article 20 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that [no] person shall be deprived of life, liberty, the security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law.
He noted that through his organization’s counseling, legal representation has been made for ten (10) female inmates (ages 28 – 40), some of whom had been arraigned before the courts and later detained at the MCP for failing to secure bail.
“Access to justice for women and girls deprived of liberty remains a challenging task in Liberia. Most encounters that keep women and girls in detention are part of the discriminatory practices faced by them that sometimes inhibit access to resources, such as property and cash to be released on bail while awaiting trial,” he added.
He also said that Section 18.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia provides that a prosecuting attorney may dismiss a case whenever the prosecutor believes that the evidence is insufficient to proceed with the trial. Equally so, the court may dismiss a case for failure to proceed with prosecution. There are other safeguards available to an accused to file a bail while awaiting trial.
It is not clear how many inmates are in the Monrovia Central prison currently. But recent reports have indicated that the central prison, built to host not more than 350 persons, has over 1,300 inmates.
Authorities at the MCP have complained of the overcrowdedness and the difficulties women encounter with the lack of sanitary pads. A prison officer, who did not want to be named, said the materials are very essential to the female inmates and that PEP needs to remain committed to rescuing women who are in prison either on conviction or are pretrial detainees.