Study has shown that prison inmates continue to face a number of human rights violations daily in Liberia.
The study indicated that rates of pre-trial detention are particularly excessive, and the data from Bong County reflected that 72.5 percent of inmates at the Gbarnga Central Prison (GCP) were pre-trial detainees.
The study also said of the pre-trial detainees at least 73.7% (70 persons total) were eligible for bail. The study also revealed that more than half (53.4%) of the prison population in GCP could be released if bail was provided.
In 2013, Search for Common Ground (SFCG) and the Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF) commissioned a Human Rights Baseline Study (HRBS) to assess human rights conditions in Bong and Lofa Counties as part of the European Union (EU) sponsored project, “Renewing the Social Contract: Strengthening the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Liberia.
The baseline study’skey findings revealed that the proportion of pre-trial detainees in GCP is very high (72.5%) and is close to the national average (83%) while many pre-trial detainees are charged with bailable, non-capital offenses and could be released to ease prison overcrowding.
The study also indicated that there is also a high incidence of detention beyond the constitutionally permissible 48 hours following arrest without charges being filed.
On convicts versus pre-trial detainees, the study said of a total of 131 inmates, 36 (or 27.5%) were convicted of crimes, while 95 (or 72.5%) were pretrial detainees, a ratio of almost 3 to 1. The baseline study said this is relatively close to the national average for Liberian prisons of 17 percent convicted, and 83 percent pre-trial detainees.
The Liberian constitution provides that convicts must be kept separate from pre-trial detainees, as do the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Liberia is a party and the UN, Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
However, the study disclosed that in many prisons throughout Liberia, this is not always respected due to prison overcrowding.
“The GCP contains seventeen rooms for inmates and pre-trial detainees. The old structure could only contain 30 inmates; however, with the construction of a new structure, the current capacity at the GCP is 120 inmates (the new annex constructed can hold up to 90 inmates). Albeit the capacity of the GCP has been enlarged, the present reality at the prison facility is far from addressing the congestion of inmates at Liberian prisons. As of May 31, 2014, the total number of inmates (131 inmates) far supersedes the actual capacity of the prison,” the study said.
The study said of the seventeen rooms available, two rooms are for women and the rest for males’ inmates while juveniles in conflict with the law are placed in separate prisons from adult inmates.
“Convicts and pre-trial detainees are kept in separate prison at the GCP; however, the number of inmates in a cell varies due to court release. A minimum of seven convicts or pre-trial detainees are kept in a single cell at the GCP. Inmates are placed in prison cells based on the gravity of the offenses committed,” the study averred.
On the length of pre-trial detention, the report noted that according to the Liberian constitution, “should the court make out a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for a speedy trial.
The report said the Liberian criminal procedure code further stipulates that a pre-trial detainee may not be held for more than two terms of court without “good cause” shown for prolonged detention.
“These provisions domesticate international human rights standards such as those contained in ICCPR article 9.3detainees “shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release” the study said.
“While the data collected are not dispositive, they strongly suggest that a number of cases have violated these provisions. Four inmates had been detained for more than one year without conviction, four more inmates had been detained for more than ten months but less than one year, and another two inmates had been detained for just over eight months” the study said.
The study revealed that “given that a term of court lasts for approximately three months, these ten cases would seem to indicate excessive pre-trial detention. Eight of the ten cases involved violent or capital offenses (rape, murder, armed robbery), so it is possible a court may have provided for an extended detention based on “good cause” (though this still does not address the apparent violation of the constitutional provision for a “speedy trial”). Two of the cases involved non-capital offenses (theft of property and human trafficking); these detainees are eligible for bail as of right and would not be subject to a “good cause” hearing to extend their detention.”
On the right to bail, the report said the issue of bail is closely related to the issue of excessive pre-trial detention in Liberia.