Sonko made these remarks at Jama Hall, during the launching of the Rapid Prisons Assessment Report, Photobook and Video Documentary organised by the Ministry of Interior in partnership with The Gambia Prisons Services and UNDP.
It was revealed that after decades of maladministration, the Prisons Service is on the road to reform and progress in line with Mandela Rules and International Human Rights standards and facing a challenging environment with dilapidated infrastructure, lack of equipment, ICT and mobility but the prisons personnel are committed to improving the standard of care to inmates.
“Already under the strain, the Prisons Service suffered a severe shock when the pandemic reached our shores and immediately red flags were raised around the overcrowding in Mile 2’s Remand Wing. There were a total of 543 detainees, 19 of which were juveniles at the end of April,” Sonko pointed out.
According to him, there is an opportunity to change our prison facilities to accommodate the needs of inmates, adding that juveniles in detention need very different care and attention than adult inmates, while an education programme at minimum is needed to ensure the youth do not fall behind and into further criminality.
He continued that a vocational training programme is also needed for young men to ensure that when they are released, they have secured skills to provide for themselves and their families which would in turn make reintegration smoother.
“The prison is the end of the justice chain. It is where our most vulnerable citizens are kept under the care of the state. All actors in the justice chain, from the arresting officer, to the prosecutor and defense counsel to the judge issuing the final verdict play an essential role in maintaining public order, upholding the rule of law and ensuring the protection of human rights,” he explained.
For her part, the UNDP Resident Representative Aissata De, said the Gambia’s prisons have been in need of improvement for the longest time, the design under the colonial era were far from international human rights standards and over the years, the reputation of The Gambia Prisons has not been positive.
She added that the recent revelations from the TRRC brought out the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that prisoners endured and limited capacities of the personnel that were prevalent in the administration of prisons.