Conditions at The Gambia’s Prison Worst than Reported.
Friday, June 15, 2012
There is urgent need to redress the situation. There are many individuals who have been detained for a very long period without been taken to court.AbdourahamanBaldeh, a Senegalese national, was apprehended since July 1997. To this day, he has not been charged with any offence and continues to languish in jail. Also incarcerated without ever appearing before a court is Alfusainey Jammeh, a native of Kanilai village. He was taken into custody in 2006. Mr M.B. Sarr too has been in detention at Mile 2 since March 10, 2010, without been told his offence.
Moreover, many individuals are having their cases deliberately prolonged by the state. For instance, three Nigerian nationals: Patrick Nwonsu, Frank Iheme, and Mosses Mbagu were first arrested July 18th 2009. A long trial ensued and lawyers for both the prosecution and defense had their briefs adopted on May 31, 2011. Since then, their case has stalled whiles they remain in jail.
Appeals sometimes take even longer. Individuals who were convicted of treason and related charges in 2006 are yet to appear before the Court of Appeal. Others claim that despite filing appeals as far back as 2002, they are yet to get any response. It is quite usual for the prisons service to fail to inform inmates about court appointments due to the archaic nature of its data processing and communication system. Sometimes physical searches had to be conducted to determine whether a prisoner is still in custody, freed, or handed over to another state security agency. Appeals have been struck out because officials failed to produce prisoners in court.
The human rights report also touched on the poor diet and the inadequacy of medical care. It appears that food, family visits, and medical care are weapons of choice for the prisons service in its dealings with inmates. The food is poor and barely enough. Foreign particles are often found in meals, and most prisoners dump what is provided as dinner. The situation continues to worsen, resulting in malnutrition and disease such as diabetes.
The Gambia’s prisons are perhaps the only one where an inmate could be punished or disciplined if caught with a fruit of any kind. Vegetables and fruits are never supplied, and detainees and convicted prisoners are not allowed to secure these through family and friends. Junior prison guards are regularly searched, and even jailed to guarantee that not even groundnuts (peanuts) are taken to prisoners.
Another concern for inmates at The Gambia’s prisons is the issue of visits. Convicts are presently allowed only four-30 minute visits by family members for the entire year. That is a total of 2 hours - visits are scheduled 3 months apart. Detainees and convicts on death-row are not allowed any visits. Some remand prisoners are routinely denied access to both family members and lawyers despite court orders.
Overcrowding particularly at Mile 2, the State Central Prison, was well documented. The prison system with over 1000 prisoners, is double its intended capacity. Inmates are packed like sardines with some even sleeping over toilets. Making matters worse is that prisoners are dumped together without any form of differentiation. Convicted drug dealers, robbers, child molesters, rapists, cannibals, political prisoners, and the mentally disabled are all locked in the same cells. A visit to building No:5 at the Mile 2 security wing would confirm this.
Even those with contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis, are kept with the rest. There have reportedly been violent clashes between lunatic inmates and other prisoners. Despite court orders, authorities refused to transfer the mentally disabled to appropriate treatment facilities.
The Gambian community might also not be aware of the massive health crisis that the prisons face. The number of prisoners contracting diseases including diabetes, hypertension, pneumonia, and tuberculoses, is on the increase. Michael Uche Thomas, who was convicted for printing seditious statement on T-Shirts contacted both pneumonia and tuberculosis in March 2012.
There is no viable medical facility within the prison, and medical staff are untrained, inexperienced, and ill-equipped. Just a handful of patients are referred to the main referral hospital in Banjul, RVTH, where there is acute shortage of drugs. Political prisoners generally have a harder time securing referrals. Some of them mistrust state physicians.
The mortality rate of prisoners is very high, but the information is closely guarded. Only cases involving prominent figures attract public attention. The extreme heat, poor sanitary environment, unhealthy diet, stress and mistreatment, are possible reasons for deaths.
A far greater fear for prisoners is the possibility of an outbreak of fire. The electrical wiring is poorly done, cables exposed everywhere and electrical sparks were common.
Under normal circumstances, guards take a considerable amount of time - up to 30 minutes - to unlock cells doors. And after lock-up at 7pm, all the keys are taken to a senior prisons official beyond the main yard for safe keeping until 7am the next day. Guards on duty who are not allowed to bring mobile phones to work would take at least one hour to respond to any emergency situation. There is no fire extinguisher in the entire prison system.
Based on these conditions, it should not come as a surprise that The Gambia Government would bar even the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting the country’s prisons.
Author: Jerreh Fatty, Kanifing