By Elkass Sannoh
Hon. Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards, the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, on the 1st February, 2021 assured representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone that the issue of overcrowding at the Male Correctional Centre would be addressed expeditiously.
The team from the Human Rights Commission comprised of the Oversight Commissioner for the Directorate of Complaint and Legal Service, Simitie Lavaly and Oversight Commissioner for the Directorate of Monitoring and Research, Dr. Gassan Abess and the Deputy Director of Monitoring and Research Directorate Mr. Brima Kelson Sesay.
In his presentation on the Commission’s findings on the status of inmates at the Male Correctional Centre, Brima Kelson Sesay said two hundred and fifty (250) inmates who are currently incarcerated at the Male Correctional Centre are without indictments. He went on to say that four (4) inmates who had completed their respective sentences are still being incarcerated because committal warrants couldn’t be produced after the burning of Pademba road correctional center with corresponding copies from the Judiciary not produced.
He attributed those anomalies as a key factor responsible for overcrowding at the Male Correctional Centre in the country. He said the centre is currently housing One Thousand Four Hundred (1,400) plus inmates for various offences including murder and robbery with aggravation among others.
The team from the Human Rights Commission said they were impressed at the massive transformation at the Judiciary. They unanimously commended the Hon. Chief Justice for his judicial reforms including the decentralization drive, expeditious and fair trials at all levels.
The Hon. Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards appreciated the Commission’s visit to bring forward what he called ‘genuine concerns in the administration of justice.’
He pointed out that addressing the issue of overcrowding nationwide has been at the hallmark of his administration through the Outdoor Prison Court that was held in September, 2019. He said forty-seven (47) inmates including the longest serving inmates were released on habeas corpus applications, and discharged for want of prosecution, while some were discharged because of the time spent relative to the offence charged with.
“If there is overcrowding at the Male Correctional Centre, it would have been recent but not within the timeframe as stated in your findings,” the Hon. Chief Justice said, whilst calling for the list of the two hundred and fifty reported inmates without indictment to be formally brought to the Judiciary.
He assured that, “I will ensure that those not yet served with their indictments are served with it without any further delay.”
The Hon. Chief Justice revealed that the Judiciary under his leadership ensured that the inmate population reduced from over two thousand to under two thousand. He said the deadly COVID 19 pandemic and the recent burning at the correctional center must have been leading factors for the increase in number of inmates as His Excellency the President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio too had graciously pardoned a good many.
“In May 2020, I had wanted to concentrate on remand prisoners because I discovered that some Magistrates were not granting bail for even minor offences but COVID 19 placed restriction on this plan,” the Chief Justice said.
In reaffirming his commitment to addressing the concerns raised by the Human Rights Commission, the Hon. Chief Justice urgently called for a meeting with the relevant stakeholders in the justice sector especially the head of the Correctional Centre, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and the Executive Director of Legal Aid Board.