News / Africa

Rights Group Condemn Liberia's Prison Conditions

In this June 2, 2007 photo, prisoners stand inside one of the small, crowded cells as others look on from the corridor, at the central prison in Monrovia, Liberia, September 21, 2011.
In this June 2, 2007 photo, prisoners stand inside one of the small, crowded cells as others look on from the corridor, at the central prison in Monrovia, Liberia, September 21, 2011.

Rights group Amnesty International is calling for reforms to Liberia's criminal justice system, to address what it says are severe overcrowding and inhumane living conditions in the country's prisons. 

Amnesty International says conditions in Liberia's prisons are, in a word, "appalling."  So much so, Amnesty says, that "they violate inmates' basic human rights."

Amnesty's Deputy Africa Director, Tawanda Hondura, says that on a recent visit to Liberia he saw as many as eight people crammed into dirty cells meant for two. "There is no proper ventilation, no proper lighting. Inmates are not provided with any bedding, so they have to make due with whatever they can find, mostly their clothes," she said. "The windows did not actually have covers, so people get wet during the rainy season, bitten by mosquitoes.  At Block D in Monrovia Central Prison, people have to urinate and defecate in plastic bags at night and then throw those out whenever they get a chance."

Monrovia Central Prison, the country's largest, has a capacity of 300, however Hondura says it typically houses close to 1,000 inmates.  He says inmates there build makeshift hammocks to avoid having to sleep practically standing up in the tiny cells.

Amnesty says the vast majority of these inmates have not been convicted of any crime.  Hondura says more than 80 percent of Liberia's prison population are pre-trial detainees.

"The major problem that contributes to prison overcrowding is the criminal justice system, which had completely collapsed and which the government is slowly trying to rebuild.  There are not enough magistrates or judges.  There are not enough prosecutors.  Sometimes people are put in prison but no attempt is made to prosecute them after, so you find people in prison awaiting trial for up to six, seven years," Hondura explains. "Which is entirely unacceptable."

Liberia is still struggling to recover from 14 years of unrest and civil war that ended in 2003.

A Liberian government spokesman, Cletus Sieh, tells VOA that the state of the prisons and the slow pace of the courts are key challenges, though he characterized Amnesty's report as "an exaggeration."

The report, he says, does not look at a newer prison in Zwedru in eastern Liberia that Sieh said has a recreation yard, proper bedding and a health facility.   

The Justice Ministry, Sieh says, has begun hiring and training additional prosecutors and public defenders and the country's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has periodically given amnesty to detainees held on minor offenses in an effort to reduce overcrowding.

Amnesty visited four of the country's 15 prisons, none of which it said had running water, adequate sanitation or health care facilities.  Amnesty said malaria, skin infections and eye problems are often left untreated and that inmates are transferred to hospitals only in emergencies.

Amnesty's Hondura says inmates can suffer permanent damage to their physical and mental health. "A lot of people complained about depression. There were many people who had attempted to commit suicide while in prison and were punished for their attempts," she noted.

Amnesty applauds recent steps taken by the Liberian government and international partners to improve living conditions but says much more must be done.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs