All human beings have inalienable rights and these rights must not be compromised, even during the legal deprivation of liberty. Humane prison conditions are a prerequisite of fair criminal-justice systems. All pre-trial detainees have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the deprivation of liberty should be the only punishment of sentenced inmates. Poor detention conditions can be detrimental to inmates’ health, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. They are also a violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules). The Sierra Leone Correctional Service (SLCS) lacked the capacity to ensure the safety and security of inmates, staff and society, the country’s detention conditions being generally characterized by: outdated prison infrastructure; overcrowded quarters, without ventilation and clean sanitary facilities; insufficient nutritious food and water for inmates; and substandard medical facilities.
Towards a Solution
The “From Prisons to Corrections” project has worked to bring the institutional capacity of the Sierra Leone Correctional Service (SLCS) up to international standards, and to strengthen staff’s capabilities to deliver on a professional and ethical manner, in order to improve the inmates’ detention conditions. The project’s key achievements include:
1) Three human-rights audits were conducted, and 19 Correctional Facility Managers and Regional Commanders were trained to implement the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. This led to the development of a Human Rights Audit Action Nationwide Plan that is presently being implemented by Facility Managers. Among other things, the plan provides for the separation of remand prisoners from those who are convicted and has also enabled inmates to enjoy visits from family members and to engage in leisure activities. A refresher course, held in Freetown on 5 and 6 March 2019, was attended by 40 participants from centres across the country, who were able to share best practices and lessons learned with their peers.
2) In spite of having been revised in 2014, Sierra Leone’s Correctional Act did not fully encompass key principles recognized in international and national laws, nor best practices required to transform the SLCS from a prison service to a correctional service. Similarly, the 1961 Prison Rules did not fully realize either the human rights of inmates or the security of staff. In 2017, drawing from SLCS’s inputs, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Correctional Council approved reviews of both the Correctional Act and Prison Rules. The revised documents have since been submitted to the Ministry of Justice and are currently being prepared for presentation to Parliament.
3) The newly adopted master plans on accommodation and industries are supporting the Government and the SLCS in identifying and implementing immediate, short-term and long-term priorities for service reform. Reflecting the number of inmates as well as the actual amount of space, the Accommodation Master Plan provides the SLCS with a full overview of institutional capacity, to inform plans for renovating and rehabilitating facilities. The Industries Master Plan improves the sustainability of the SLCS, enabling inmates to receive training and develop skills, to grow their own food, and to produce and sell furniture. These initiatives have helped generate funds for the SLCS; and inmates, who used to eat only once a day, are now receiving three daily meals.
4) The project in 2017 completed a mapping exercise of all the 19 correctional facilities of the country and helped to formalize a set of recommendations for improving their conditions, which were welcomed and are progressively being implemented by the SLCS. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also assisted the SLCS to classify inmates, improve security policies and procedures, provide better health and sanitation services, make facility renovations, expand prison industries, and enhance inmate programmes. The improvements in eight facilities have benefited over 1,500 inmates and contributed to reduce the recurrent outbreaks of communicable diseases in these mostly overcrowded centres.
Every year since 2015, SLCS staff have been selected to attend comprehensive two-week training sessions in correction management in the United States of America. In 2017, a one-week study tour to Kenya was arranged in partnership with the Kenya Prisons Service (KPS) to learn from KPS’s broad experience in implementing correctional reforms, including the review of its legislative framework and its initiatives taken to improve detention conditions and staff welfare. As a fruitful development of the South-South collaboration between Kenya and Sierra Leone, SLCS management and staff have initiated a larger correctional farm in one facility, and several centres now have small-scale farming, carpentry, bakery and sewing industries programmes, employing more than 300 inmates.
Countries/territories involved: Kenya, Sierra Leone, United States of America
Supported by : UNDP and Government of the United States of America- Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Implementing entities: Sierra Leone Correctional Service (SLCS)
Project Status: Completed
Project Period– October 2016 – March 2019
URL to the practice:
Name: Walter Neba Chenwi
Title: Rule of Law Programme Specialist, UNDP Sierra Leone
Email address: email@example.com