‘Prison is Not Hotel’
Friday, June 15, 2012
AnsumanaManneh however made it clear that prison conditions cannot be as comforting as that of a hotel.
“We cannot deprive them [prisoners] their rights, but they should not expect the conditions [at prisons] to be how they would expect it in a hotel,” he told The Daily News in an exclusive interview at Prisons Department which reads below:
Why have prison authorities refuse independent observers and journalists access to investigate conditions of prisons?
That is not true because I have not seen any document requesting that observers or journalists want to investigate the prison conditions. As far as I’m concern, I have not seen any request.
So would you grant access, if they write to you?
We are under the Ministry of Interior and we work on orders. We have to get authority from the ministry before granting observers or journalists access.
Many people are being detained for long without trial. What are you doing about that?
If that is happening, it is not the problem of the prisons. We are only a custodian and we follow orders. What we can do is to facilitate their transportation by contacting relevant authorities for them to be in court.
As you put it, you are the custodian, where then is Yusuf Ezzideen?
It is right we are the custodian and we keep what is given to us. I have no idea about Yusuf Ezzideen’s whereabouts.
But you are custodian and Yusuf was brought to you when he was sentenced to death. He appealed against his sentence but never appeared in court since?
I cannot answer that. The court should be in a better position to answer that.
Another concern is the issue of visits, it is alleged that presently prisoners are allowed only 30-minute visit by family members for the whole year. Is this what is stipulated in the constitution?
That is what is stipulated, but the Director General of Prisons Services sometime uses his discretion. We act in accordance with the Prisons Act, which needs to be reviewed and updated.
Prisoners have alleged that they are denied access to see their lawyers. What is your take on this?
That allegation is not true. These are excuses prisoners use in court. Any prisoner who has a lawyer is given access to meet his or her lawyer.
Why do you put prisoners of different categories - drug dealers, rapists, robbers, political prisoners, and mentally disabled in the same cells?
Prisoners are located according to their classification. We have special areas where we remand people. The juvenile delinquents and women are put in different cells. I have no idea about disabled prisoners in remand. So the report that all categories of prisoners are put in one cell is not true. We don’t have political prisoners with common criminals in one area.
Are you saying that you don’t have mentally disabled prisoners?
Any prisoner that is confirmed mentally disabled is taken to ‘Tanka Tanka’.
It is claimed that despite court orders in some stances, you refused to transfer the mentally disabled to the appropriate treatment facilities?
This is an unfounded allegation. We carry out any order from the court.
But it is true that prison cells are overcrowded?
The overcrowding is global problem; it is not only in The Gambia. Also, we have to consider that the rate of crime is increasing. Offences are committed on a daily basis.
And overcrowding is compounded by the fact that there is no viable medical facility within the prison; and medical staffs are both untrained, and ill-equipped. A case in point is MichealUche Thomas, a convict of sedition who contacted both pneumonia and tuberculosis in March 2012?
No, we have special lab purposely for TB patients. This was funded by Global Fund and we have qualified State Registered Nurses (SRNs) in the prisons with some of our trained prison nurses, who had been trained though Global Fund. On the issue of insufficient medicine, doctors do come to prisons to see if prisoners need to go to the RVTH.
But reports also suggest that many prisoners are denied access to go the RVTH, even with a court order?
We act in accordance with court orders. If there is need for prisoners to go the RVTH, we take them there. In fact doctors come to prisons thrice a week, whether there is complain or not.
Death reportedly occurs at the prison more frequently than reported and only the cases involving prominent figures attract public attention. Can you confirm this?
Death is unavoidable, but it is not true that death occurs frequently in the prison. We are under a ministry and we have a procedure of reporting death cases. We report every death to the Ministry of Interior.
What is fate of Abdurrahman Baldeh, a Senegalese remanded since 1997 and Alfusainey Jammeh of Kanilai remanded since 2004?
I cannot remember unless I make inquires.
Is it true that prisoners sleep on the floor; that they are mistreated by prison officers?
We don’t treat our fellow human beings in such an inhumane way. Every year mattresses are procured for prisoners. We cannot deprive them their rights, but they cannot expect the conditions to be how they will expect it in a hotel. This is prison and not a hotel.
Those mattresses I was made to understand, are taken by prison wardens and not the prisoners?
That is not true. Being a prisoner does mean we have to right to seize ones liberty. They are human beings after all.
Author: Interview coductedby Binta A Bah