The Minister of the Interior, Yankuba J.N Sonko on Wednesday, 24th March, launched The Gambia Prisons Service Rapid Assessment Report, Photobook and Documentary.
The Interior Ministry is supported on this initiative by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The objective is to improve the standard of The Gambia Prisons Service to meet the United Nation’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Speaking at the event, which took place at a local hotel, the UNDP Resident Representative, Aissata De, said the launch of the Prison Rapid Report, Photobook and Documentary, is a crucial step towards realising the much-needed prisons reforms in The Gambia; especially in strengthening the rule of law and security service delivery.
She pointed out that over the past years, the reputation of Gambia Prisons Service has not been positive. “The recent revelations from the TRRC brought out the torture, inhumane and degrading treatment that prisoners endured, and the limited capacities of the personnel that were prevalent in the administration of prisons. It is therefore important to consider the reform of the prisons within the context of the transitional justice framework,” she remarked.
Madam Aissata De intimated that the report reveals some challenges faced by The Gambia Prisons Service that need to be addressed and that these challenges require collective and concerted efforts and resources. “The challenges highlighted in the Prisons Rapid Assessment Report is an opportunity to support strategic interventions for reform. These interventions include infrastructural, digitalisation and capacity building support among other areas. The report has also shown that prison personnel need better staff quarters and comprehensive training to ensure that they have the capacity to meet the ‘Mandela Rules Standard’”, she further explained.
In his keynote address, the Minister of the Interior Yankuba J.N Sonko said in the previous regime, the Prisons Service was neglected and its mandate abused. This he said was manifested in the revelations from the TRRC sessions.
“The prison reforms process started on the first day of our new government. The challenges were immense. The Prisons Service and its senior leadership face dilapidated, colonial era infrastructure, an overcrowded Remand Wing, lack of basic equipment, communication devices and proper nutrition for detainees. Despite limited resources, the Prison Service committed itself to reforming and meeting the minimum international standards for detention”.
The Interior Minister went on to report that the Prisons Service suffered when the pandemic newly spread and that immediately the red flags were raised around overcrowded Mile 2 remand wing.
“At the end of April, there was a total of 543 detainees, 19 of which were juveniles. Out of 543 detainees, 302 were on remand with 172 housed in Mile 2’s remand wing,’’ he said.
He acknowledged that since 2016 the idea of reforming the prisons was advocated by civil society organisations, human rights groups and GCCI.
“We have an opportunity to change our prisons facilities to accommodate the needs of inmates. Juveniles in detention need very different care and attention than adult inmates. Prison facilities that protect the privacy and rights of women in detention are critical and special care needs to be afforded to inmates who may have children or are pregnant,’’ he contended.
Minister Sonko further advised that an education programme is needed to ensure the youth do not fall behind and into criminality. He therefore calls for a vocational training programme for youths to ensure that when they are released, they have secured skills to provide for themselves and their families.
The event was concluded with a brief presentation of the report, Photobook and Short Documentary by Ansumana Manneh, the Director General of The Gambia Prisons Service, and a high level panel discussion which was moderated by Mr. Gibril Ngorr MT Secka, Adviser to the Minister of the Interior.