BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Charles Dave is a 52-year-old inmate who has spent 10 years at the Buchanan Central Prison on a murder conviction. He is one of the 85 inmates currently housed at the prison, 10 of which are serving life sentences.
The inmates are there for a range of convictions, including disorderly conduct, non-persistent support, murder, theft of property, rape, and criminal mischief.
Dave says the prison, which has a capacity of 47 prisoners, is overcrowded and he warned others to avoid getting involved with acts that could land them there.
The superintendent of the prison, Victor Logan, has also been raising alarm about the crowded state of his prison, noting that too many prisoners are being sent his way for minor offenses.
“I am feeling bad about it,” Logan said. “The thing is, they send people to jail for disorderly conduct, which does not make too much sense for me.”
The Upper Buchanan prison compound was reserved for inmates in Grand Bassa who had been convicted of serious offenses; however, officials acknowledge that the prison now contains people who commit petty crimes and pretrial detainees, many of whom are there longer than the legal limit.
Logan said of the 85 inmates, 58 are pretrial detainees, with some spending over 17 months without being tried.
“My capacity, according to this prison, it should be 47 but at times, we have 97,” he said. “We experience over crowdedness most of the time.”
He said, of the 85 inmates, 3 are females who were sent there for crimes arranging from murder, attempted murder and drug. He said the rest of the 82 are males.
The Buchanan prison comprised of 10 cells, 8 in the males block and 2 in the women and juvenile block.
The public defender of Grand Bassa, Paul Philip Jarvar, acknowledges that reducing crowdiness of the prison is a priority. He said efforts are being made to release pretrial detainees with minor offenses who have been held beyond the statutory limit.
“We have been working in collaboration with the Liberia National Bar Association’s legal aid clinic in Buchanan,” he said. “We visited the Buchanan Prison compound and we came up with an update and there were 38 persons on the list. Out of the 38 persons, we were able to ensure that 13 persons were released – those who have been charged with minor offenses such as theft of property, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct.”
The public prosecutor added that while efforts are being made to abide by the law that limits how long individuals can be held without trial, some judges and prosecutors are reluctant to release inmates.
“The law says that whenever you are indicted this term, the next succeeding term, you have to be tried, but they are reluctant in ensuring that provision of the law,” Jarvar said. “We are going to bring pressure so that we can hurry up with some of these cases.”
As officials prioritize decongesting the prison, the Liberia National Bar Association has been assisting where it can. The president of the association, Cllr. Moses Paegar, said the organization recognizes the crowded state of prisons nationwide. He noted that lawyers were frantically trying to ensure that civil rights were being protected.
“So, what we have done and are doing is that we have the pro-bono legal aid program and that is our way of trying to help to decongest the prisons,” he told The Bush Chicken by phone.
He said the legal aid program provides free legal services to people in prisons and those who cannot afford legal services. It is currently being rolled out in Bomi, Bong, Margibi, Montserrado, and Grand Bassa. The bar association hopes it can cover all 15 counties with the program if funding is available.
Featured photo by Sampson David