VOINJAMA, Lofa – A group of inmates at the Voinjama Central Prison recently harvested rice on farmland provided to them by the government.
Flomo Johnson, superintendent of the prison, said forty-two inmates are currently engaging in agriculture on over 60 acres of rice farm. He said the cultivation of the farmland began in April 2016 with the full participation of all inmates.
“The inmates have been receiving support in terms of farming tools from the Ministry of Justice in Lofa County,” he said.
While Johnson said he does not know the practices at all prisons across Liberia, he described his initiative as unique because it allowed the inmates to acquire skills that could be put to use after serving their sentences.
Liberia’s prison system has often been criticized by groups like Amnesty International and the United States Department of State, which, in its 2015 country report on human rights practices, stated that over 1,000 inmates resided at the 375-person capacity Monrovia Central Prison. The report noted that beyond the overcrowding, inmates across the prison system did not receive timely medical care nor did they receive adequate food.
At the Voinjama Central Prison, Johnson said the rice grown by the inmates would be used to feed them because of the limited support the government provides. A portion of the rice would also be sold and the money would be used to maintain the prison and care for the inmates by purchasing items such as clothing, bedding, and slippers. He described the living standards at the prison as appalling, and warned that it could hamper the growth of the inmates.
“It is the responsibility of every Liberian to ensure that inmates at various prison compounds across the country live in a conducive environment while serving their terms in jail,” Johnson added.
Some of the inmates who spoke to The Bush Chicken, including Charles Morlue, described the initiative as a well-meaning exercise that could allow them to work for themselves while allowing them to be outdoors. Morlue is currently serving a 15-year sentence as a result of an armed robbery conviction.
Several residents in Voinjama seemed to welcome the idea. Korto Youngor, a business woman within the city, said she was pleased that the program was helping the inmates be useful in society after serving their sentences. She said she hoped it would help to make a difference in their lives instead of them returning to their old ways.
Featured photo by Josephine Guwor