General TRRC findings on Gambia Prison Services

May 13, 2022, 12:55 PM | Article By: Ali Jaw

Following evidences received by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), concerning the Gambia Prison Services and an actual visit held by the Commission to prison facilities across the country, the TRRC has revealed its findings in its report regarding the general condition of the Prison Services under Yahya Jammeh.

"During the period July 1994 – January 2017, The Gambia Prison Service gained notoriety for the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment meted out to prisoners and detainees," the report states.

"Former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh used the prison system to punish his opponents (perceived or real) and sent them to his “five star hotel”, the notorious Mile II Central Prison which he knew to be a dirty, damp, and mosquito and vermin infested place."

"To ensure that the prisons were under his control, Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh appointed a Director General with no qualifications, who would thus beholden to him and obligated to carry out his illegal orders. Prison officers were recruited with little or no educational qualification, which made them prone to manipulation."

The prison service, the report added, was used as a tool for oppression and formed part of the tentacles of state control over every aspect of life of Gambians. "Detainees were incarcerated at Mile II Central Prison without due process, and they were not allowed family visits or access to their lawyers."

"From 1994 to 2016, a special category of prisoners not recognised by law under the classification “detainees” were kept at the Security Wing of Mile II Central Prison on orders of the former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh.”

"Detainees were deprived of food, water, clothing, basic sanitation and health care, and this violated their rights to the minimum of space, hygiene, religious worship, privacy and security necessary for a humane and dignified existence."

"The ill-treatment, abuse and torture of prisoners and detainees through a range of methods were prevalent and were carried out by non-prison officers such as the junta members, the Junglers and the State Guards, and by prison officers. These included mock executions, torture and corporal punishment.” the report relates.

The 1995 Farafenni attackers and the 2014 suspected December coupists were kept in shackles for lengthy periods under the instructions of former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, resulting to paralysis in some cases, and one reported case of amputation.

“The NIA would come in at night and remove prisoners or detainees from the prison and take them to the NIA headquarters to be tortured by the ‘Junglers’ and returned to Mile II Central Prison after the torture sessions.”

The Junglers were mostly implicated in the rights abuses at the prison and are alleged to have carried out the most grievous crimes.

“Prisoner Ous Nicol was tortured until he became mad. The torture was conducted by Ebrima Jammeh (Chief Torturer), Yahya Jarju, Saikouba Jarju, Muhammed Jabbi and Malang Tamba. David Colley knew about these tortures, as they took place outside his office, but did nothing to stop them.”

The group of torturers – Ebrima Jammeh (Chief Torturer), Yahya Jarju, Saikouba Jarju, Muhammed Jabbi and Malang Tamba – were referred to as the “royal family”, due to their connection with former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh. They acted with impunity and in total disregard of the Prisons Act.

From 1994 to 2016, prisoners were often denied medical treatment, which often led to several deaths in prison. Many people died of neglect. The prison has rudimentary health facilities with no provision for mental health issues.

The food at the prisons was unfit for human consumption and lacked the nutrients necessary for a healthy life, resulting in malnutrition and diseases such as beriberi, which gives rise to high morbidity and mortality in the prisons. It is estimated that 36 people died of beriberi at Mile II Central Prison.

Overcrowding is a major problem in the prison system in The Gambia. The Commission notes that it is particularly horrendous to require prisoners to sleep in toilets, sometimes in standing position. And where they are lucky to have beds, they are packed therein like sardines."

"The Commission notes that the prison had so many young persons who were incarcerated for petty crimes such as stealing mobile phones or possession of small quantities of cannabis. The absence of corrective and rehabilitation programmes is quite apparent in all the prisons." 

In 2006, the Director General David Colley brought dead bull to feed the prisoners, resulting in sickness of many who ate the meat.

"Corruption is rampant in the prison system. Prison officers regularly take bribes and peddle contrabands, leading to unequal treatment of prisoners."