Former Prisoners Advocate for Prisoners in Makeni
In a bid to curb the spate of human rights violations against defenseless prisoners in Sierra Leone, top executive members of the Attitudinal and Behavioral Change (ABC) Secretariat, Dr. Ivan Ajibola Thomas and Mrs. Nanette Thomas on Thursday October 27th, 2011 urged personnel attached to the Prisons Department in Makeni to change their mindsets. (Photo: ABC National Coordinator, Nanette Thomas, together with prison officers in Makeni)
According to them, the oversight of basic human rights of detainees by prison officers has caused Human Rights Organizations like Amnesty International to lose confidence in the Sierra Leone Prisons Department.
The ABC Secretariat operatives did not mince their words in condemning the prison officers for these inhuman acts and reminded them that, as a vital institution in the maintenance of justice, they should employ all available means to rebrand their poor public image.
Prisons Are Hell!
The Executive Director of ABC, Dr. Ivan Agibola Thomas who shared his experience as a former political prisoner, said although prisons are supposed to be a corrective and reform centre for prisoners, they are not operating as expected in the way and manner they should in Sierra Leone.
“Prisons are Hell”, Dr. Thomas disclosed and buttressed that many prison officers take delight in abusing the rights of prisoners, more so those held behind bars because of political reasons.
He revealed that apart from physical and sexual abuses, prison officers are in the habit of serving prisoners unpalatable food stuffs. Dr. Thomas said these awful dishes adversely affect prisoners’ health and complained about the unsanitary condition of cells. Prisoners, he said, are mostly cramped into poorly ventilated cells and are denied access to visitors. He said these acts totally contravene the international standards for prisons operations. Dr. Thomas challenged that the insufficiency of government funding and limited prisons spaces to accommodate the current turnover of law breakers must not be solely blamed for the poor conditions of the prisons countrywide.
The Real Problems
The Executive Director of ABC said although successive governments have failed to expand on the capacities of colonially built prisons and provide sufficient funding for the Prisons Department these could not be the real problems leading to the maltreatment of prisoners.
In his view the problems stem from the negative attitudes and behaviours of prison officers, who direct their personal dissatisfactions on prisoners. He said although there are plenty excellent prison officers, but one bad fish always spoil the basket of fish. Dr. Thomas blamed the delivery of poor services in prisons on the manner in which supply contracts are tendered. According to him most of their bidding processes are infested by corruption.
In addition, Dr. Thomas blamed the snail pace of dispensing justice for the overcrowding of cells. He agitated that most people are in prisons for crimes for which incarceration is not the prescribed punishment.
Dr. Thomas registered his institution’s concern over the uncountable numbers of prison breaks. These he said have been causing serious insecurity around the country because hardcore criminals easily find their ways into vulnerable societies.
According to him it is impossible for prisoners to escape without the connivance of prison officers. He described prisons breaks as a slap on the face of the justice system and victims who prosecuted the prisoners. Dr. Thomas called prison officers to stop engaging themselves in these unprofessional tricks simply because of personal aggrandizement.
While advocating for the fair treatment of prisoners, the National Coordinator and Second- in- Command of the ABC Secretariat, Nanette Thomas indicted prison officers for exploiting the unmonitored entry and exist system of prisons.
“Our prisons are too porous! They lack modern monitoring devices”, Madam Thomas pointed out. She condemned prison officers who traffic prohibited substances, weapons and subversive information into prisons yards. According to her these drugs harden prisoners to reform routines and warned that officers must ensure that prisoners’ properties which are confiscated are return to them after they finish serving their jail terms. Depriving prisoners of their properties is a negative attitude she stressed.
F.R.E.S.H :The Way Forward
Being that negative attitudes and behaviours have rendered prison operations deplorable, Madam Thomas attached more importance on the need for officers to change their odd tricks for more positive ones. She mentioned that it is virtually not an easy process, but assured them that by working on their five pillars of attraction these negative attitudes and behaviors can be purged out. Madam Thomas referred to these pillars of attraction as F.R.E.S.H. She termed F.R.E.S.H as the possible way forward from bad thoughts, emotions, feelings, speeches and actions. These pillars Madam Thomas informed the officers comprise of the well management of their Finances, Relationships, Environments, Spiritualities and Health. She reiterated that change is natural to continually occur whether you expect it or not. She reminded them that one problem with change is fear, and the fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists. She admonished everyone to start thinking seriously about change which is the only security that one has. Let us all embrace President Koroma’s “Agenda for Change”. Without attitudinal change, socio-economic development will be difficult to achieve.
Accepting Change Hands Down
The Prisons Director of Northern Region, Ibrahim Dumbuya urged his officers to accept the concept of ABC hands down, because according to him as an institution they keenly need to change. He thanked the ABC Secretariat for sensitizing them on how to relate to prisoners. He informed his officers that by changing their present unattractive mindsets prisons will become a reputable organization soonest.
By Aminata Tholley & Momoja Lappia
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