Editorial | Inmates speak out
Inmates at the Fort Augusta female prison have made several damning allegations against the prison authorities.
As if to demonstrate how loose security is at the facility, on two occasions the women used cell phones to post videos on Facebook, calling attention to poor prison conditions and the lack of action by the authorities to prevent physical harm at the hands of other prisoners. For nearly five minutes, the heavily disguised women recited a litany of woes.
Cell phones are not allowed in local prisons for they can be used to negatively impact security. In this case, not only were cell phones available, the resourceful inmates had access to the Internet. How did that happen, some people may be wondering? Clearly, the correctional officers are not as vigilant as they ought to be and may be allowing dangerous contraband to get to inmates.
The stabbing of an inmate by another appears to have been the trigger for their protest. Among the things the incarcerated women are demanding are: access to medical care, including medication, effective security, better food and respect.
In response, Correctional Department spokesman Dexter Thompson said the authorities have taken "drastic" action to quell the unrest.
While he did not reveal what those actions were, he disclosed that four cell phones were seized when the prison was searched.
Mr Thompson was downright dismissive of the women's concerns. He rejected the story about there being any physical abuse, because he himself saw no bruises. Since Thompson is not known to be a medical professional, perhaps he should not be the one making such assertions.
Surely, the thing to do in the face of these complaints is for the ministry responsible for justice to document the complaints and set about starting an investigation into them, and then devising a sustainable plan to deal with them.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that the events at Fort Augusta are symptomatic of broader flaws in the criminal justice system. Addressing these problems require money. We have heard the arguments repeatedly. There is not enough resources to employ the requisite personnel to address these shortcomings.
Bearing in mind that we focused on a population which may not garner a whole lot of sympathy from society - for, after all, these are mere prisoners - we submit that a correctional institution's setting demands empathy, and guards and other personnel should be so trained that they exhibit that quality.
These women will someday be released from prison and returned to society. If they are to re-enter society successfully and make meaningful contributions, the process must begin in the prisons. If their spirits are broken by the inhumane treatment meted out to them, then it will be extremely difficult for them to be reintegrated into society. It is in society's interest therefore, that the men and women who are now in penal institutions be treated well. What we do not want is for them to return to destructive and antisocial ways after their release.
Since the country appears to be in a mood for audits, we suggest that the light of accountability be shone on the entire penal system. We ought not to wait until inmates take things into their own hands.