The overcrowding of Sanniquellie Central Prison is worrying judicial actors in Nimba County as the inmates now number close to 200.
Speaking at the opening of the February Term of Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie yesterday, County Attorney Hector Queingoa called on judicial actors to find the means to decongest the prison.
The prisoners numbered 168 last year, he said, but with their number almost at 200, the situation is “very worrisome.”
“The prison was built for 75 inmates, but the number has gone beyond the capacity and we need to find means to decongest it,” he said.
The prosecutor called on magistrates to settle minor offense cases, instead of “sending offenders to jail for bond fees.” He, however, warned them not to compromise on cases.
He said in cases of minor offenses, the magistrates should look for permanent citizens to serve as guarantors for the perpetrators, instead of detaining them.
We need to help to decongest the prison, because the cost of feeding the inmates and meeting their welfare is too much,” he said.
The County Attorney explained that Correction Officers are facing difficulties meeting the needs of the inmates, especially feeding them regularly.
“To feed the inmates the Prison Superintendent goes the extra mile and credit from vendors, while they wait for supplies to come,” he said.
Earlier in his opening statement, Circuit Court Judge Arthur Gaye urged lawyers or the County Bar to speed up with the assignment of their cases, as the court’s docket is crowded.
He said there are about 62 criminal cases and 71 civil cases in this term of court, “which is too much.” He said cases need speedy trials, which can be done when lawyers pursue their cases.
The Eighth Judicial Circuit Court opened in the absence of presiding Judge Emery Paye, owing to illness, but a clerk presided over the opening.
In his statement, Public Defender Robertson P. Mehn blamed the overcrowding on what he called “keeping prisoners in the cell for too long.”
He said those detained from the September 30, 2015 saga in Ganta are yet to be tried and they are kept in cells for political reasons, which he said should not be so because there is no politics in the judiciary.
Rep. Worlea Dunah, who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary, and is also a member of the Nimba Bar Association, was among those in attendance at the opening.
He later visited the Sanniquellie Central Prison to acquaint himself with conditions there and to meet with the relevant authorities to seek redress for their concerns.