BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – After 17 inmates became ill with diarrhea at the Buchanan Central Prison, some Grand Bassa residents have been calling on the government to erect a new prison compound or to expand the existing prison to ease the crowdedness of the county’s only prison.
Many made their voices heard on local community radio stations during talk shows that solicited calls from the public. During one of these shows, Joseph Droh, a resident of Grand Bassa, said the county needed to respect the rights of detainees.
“It is not everyone in the Buchanan Central Prison that is sentenced for life; some of them are pre-trial detainees – they have not been trialed for almost year,” he said. “It is their right to be treated like human beings; you cannot keep them somewhere that is not conducive, and the prison is congested.”
Droh added that there is no need for a person to stay in jail for over one year without trial for crimes such as aggravated and simple assaults.
“So, now that the prison is overcrowded, where will you carry those who committing murder and armed robberies?” He added. “We need speedy trial; the court should act faster than the current slow pace.”
He noted that the central prison is overcrowded due to the failure of the complainants to pursue their cases. Droh also called on the court to free those who have been abandoned by their complainants for crimes such as aggravated or simple assault.
He added, “If the government cannot provide proper medical care and make sure that the Buchanan Prison is decongested, they should be able to transfer the inmates to a prison compound that is conducive or somewhere that their cases will be fast strike.”
Like Droh, other residents of Buchanan also complained about the crowded prison.
Other conditions in the prison suggest that the inmates are facing unfavorable conditions. Sources within the prison anonymously alerted The Bush Chicken that inmates are now fed only once a day due to low food supply; in the past, they were fed twice a day.
The source also said the low level of drugs at the Liberian Government Hospital means that the medical team visiting the prison once a month, compared to weekly visits in the past.
The 17 inmates who fell ill are currently recovering at Buchanan’s Liberian Government Hospital.
The Buchanan Central Prison was built to hold 47 inmates, but it currently has 114 inmates, of whom, 74 are pre-trial detainees while 40 have been sentenced. The inmates are taken there for a variety of crimes, including theft of property, rape, murder, burglary, terroristic threats, armed robberies, and assaults. One of the pre-trial detainees has spent a year and eight months without trial.
Recently, the Grand Bassa public defender, Paul Jarvan, and the resident judge of Grand Bassa, Joe Barkon, freed over ten inmates who had overstayed beyond the time without trial, but the number remains high as the prison still record 114 inmates.
The Buchanan Central Prison is fed by the seven magisterial courts and the Second Judicial Circuit Court. Other cases from neighboring counties are also sometimes also transferred from other counties.
The magisterial courts only have holding cells that cannot accommodate more than six persons. As a result, they transfer most of their cases to the central prison until their case appears on the docket.
During the opening of the May term of court, the spokesperson of the trial judges of Grand Bassa, Magistrate Winston Dayugar of the Owensgrove Magisterial Court, called on the government to expand the various withholding cells across the county. He said it would allow the magisterial courts to keep detainees for trial, instead of transferring them to Buchanan.
He said as the population grows, there will be a need for even more space in prison compounds across the country.
Featured photo by Sampson David