By Omar Bah
The Chairperson of the National Assembly committee on human rights has confirmed to The Standard that as a matter of urgency his committee will engage the Chief Justice over an inmate who stayed at Mile 2 for ten years without being sentenced. Honourable Madi Ceesay, who led his committee on a fact-finding mission to the country’s central prisons on Wednesday, said the committee will also engage the Chief Justice on the overall lapses in the justice delivery system causing havoc at the Mile 2 Remand Wing. Mile 2 is currently harbouring about 536 inmates of which 90% are young people who were arrested on murder and drug related offences. However, the majority of inmates who had the opportunity to meet with the NAMs have registered their disappointment about the judiciary which they said has failed to meet its mandate of delivering justice. The congestion at the prisons remand wing is reportedly caused by the delays in court cases.
But speaking to The Standard shortly after the visit, Honourable Ceesay said the issue of slow delivery of justice is so serious that the committee will have to do something about it very urgently.
“It is disturbing to have come across an individual in the Mile 2 remand prisons who has been there for fourteen years without justice. This is the longest serving inmate in the country without justice and justice delayed is justice denied. You cannot keep somebody for fourteen years going up and down without the court being conclusive. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Honourable Ceesay said his committee will put all its findings together in a report and engage the stakeholders concerned.
“We will engage the Inspector General Police, Director Generals of Prisons, Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Customs and the Ministers of Interior, Defence and Justice and put all these findings before them. We will also engage the Chief Justice personally to know what they are doing about this issue of prisoners kept at the remand for decades without concluding their case,” he said.
He said the committee will take “very firm steps” to address these lapses.
Ceesay said the committee has also come across one prisoner who claimed his sentence was increased at Mile 2. He said because of the nature of the visit they could not lay hands on all the details but they will engage the Prisons DG on Monday to sort the matter out.
“The prisoner told us he was sentenced by the court for four years but when he returned to Mile 2, he was told that his sentence was increased to seven years by the court. This is abnormal and the committee is going to take this up on Monday with the relevant authorities to ensure it is addressed. We want to know the details because that person should know his fate urgently,” he said.
Honourable Ceesay described the conditions of the Mile 2 prisons as “horrible and unbearable” to keep human beings.
“The structures are ancient buildings and they are in unbearable conditions,” he said.
The lawmaker however was satisfied with the rooms at the Security Wing numbering about 99 cells and housed the likes of Yankuba Touray, Sheikh Omar Jeng, Yankuba Badjie and several other convicted high-profile inmates as better.
“What is not really appreciative is the remand wing where you have up to fifteen inmates packed in one cell and people laying underneath each other. Those cells don’t meet human rights standards and need improvement immediately because they are horribly overcrowded. The prisons wardens also have their constraints. We had the opportunity to visit where they reside and the conditions are horrible with water stagnant everywhere. Even the roofs they are living under are exposing them to cancer,” he said.
He said the committee will also engage the Prisons DG on the concerns raised by the prison wardens themselves which include and not limited to poor living conditions, lack of vehicles to transport inmates to their various court proceedings amongst others. “The issue of transportation is affecting the process of justice and we will ensure this is sorted out immediately,” he said.
The Standard will publish a detail report on the visit next week.