By Jariatu Bangura
Members of Parliament on Monday, at a pre-legislative session, discussed the Sierra Leone Correctional Services Act, 2014, an Act which is envisaged to transform the current Prisons Department into a Correctional Centre for people who may have breached the criminal law.
Chairman of the Pre-Legislative Committee, Hon. Ajibola Manley-Spaine, said the bill would repeal and amend the 1960 Act which governs prison services in the country.
He lamented that the current laws were not being implemented to the letter by the Prisons Department as prisoners and persons on remand were not separated but instead kept in crowded cells.
He said the objective of the bill is to ensure that prisoners from poor communities and therefore most vulnerable and marginalized are provided with minimal support while detained at the proposed Correctional Centre.
Minister of Internal Affairs, J.B. Dauda, revealed that in 2009 the Government of Sierra Leone, by way of a diagnostic study of the Prisons Department, proffered recommendations on the difficulties and challenges faced by prisoners at various prisons around the country, including lack of appropriate system, no clear defined rules, delay of court process on cases, poor management records system, etc.
He said that although the department is part of the new administration, the new Act would spearhead efforts by the Social Welfare Ministry and civil society organisations to transform the prisons across the country into correctional centres.
Hon. Foday Rado Yokie opined that majority of inmates who had served terms behind bars do more harm than previously upon being released, and called on prison officers to supervise and monitor inmates with a view to rehabilitating them.
He said the welfare of prison officers should be paramount as the environment in which they operate is not conducive for them, while inmates should be punished commensurate to crimes they committed and in view of their human rights.
Hon. Umar Paran Tarawally admonished officials from the Prisons Department to refrain from transferring inmates on trial as the latter might escape, thus calling on prison officers to separate convicted felons from accused persons on trial.
He also said that overcrowding at prisons could cause rioting and mayhem if few officers are on guard.
If the bill is passed, it is expected to impact positively on overcrowding in prisons in Sierra Leone, especially at the Pademba Road prisons which currently houses thousands of prisoners when in fact it was built to house few hundred inmates.