By Adama Tine
The minister of the Interior Yankuba Sonko has stated that under the previous regime, the Gambia Prisons Service was largely neglected while its mandate was abused as well.
Sonko made these remarks at the Kairaba Beach Hotel during the recent launch of the Rapid Prisons Assessment Report, Photobook and Video Documentary organized by the Ministry of Interior in partnership with the Gambia Prisons Services and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Sonko revealed that after decades of administration, the Prisons Service was on the road to reform and progress in line with Mandela Rules and International Human Rights standards. However, he said the Mile Two Central Prisons was facing a challenging environment with dilapidated infrastructure, lack of equipment, ICT and mobility for prisons personnel committed to improving the standard of care to inmates.
“Already under the strain, the Prisons Service suffered a severe shock when the pandemic reached our shores and immediately red flags were raised around the overcrowding in Mile 2’s Remand Wing, where there were a total of 543 detainees, 19 of which were juveniles at the end of April,” Sonko noted.
According to him, there is an opportunity to change our prisons facilities to accommodate the needs of inmates, adding that juveniles in detention need different care and attention than adult inmates, while an education program at minimum is needed to ensure youths do not fall behind and into further criminality.
He added that a vocational training program is also needed for young men to ensure that when they are released, they have secured skills to provide for themselves and their families, which will in turn will make their reintegration smoother.
“The prisons are the end of the justice chain. It is where our most vulnerable citizens are kept under the care of the state. All actors in the justice chain, from the arresting officer, to the prosecutor and defense counsel to the judge issuing the final verdict play an essential role in maintaining public order, upholding the rule of law and ensuring the protection of human rights,” he explained.
The UNDP Resident Representative Aissata De said the Gambia’s prisons have been in need of improvement for the longest time, adding that the design under the colonial era were far from international human rights standards and over the years, the reputation of the Gambia Prisons Service has not been positive.
She added that the recent revelations at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) brought out the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that prisoners endured and limited capacities of the personnel that were prevalent in the administration of the prisons.