The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has launched a rehabilitation project at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP).
Under the UNDP/OHCHR Joint Rule of Law programme, the rehabilitation project is funded by the Governments of Sweden and Ireland at the cost of US$50,000 and procured 44 pieces of tailoring machines and other assorted materials for soap making expected to be used to train 133 inmates and 11 correction officers as instructors.
The launching ceremony was performed on Wednesday 19 February 2020 by the Minister of Justice, Counselor Musa Dean, who urged the inmates to take advantage of the opportunity to learn new skills that will be beneficial to them.
Counselor Dean described rehabilitation as a challenging enterprise with limited resources, adding that, punishment for a crime requires one to serve a jail term where rehabilitation becomes a necessity.
“Ensuring the success of the rehabilitation program requires investment in employing or empowering the ex-convicts with seed money,” Justice Minister added.
The Minister acknowledged the congestion of the Monrovia prison which holds 1,260 inmates against its holding capacity of 324 inmates.
He recognized the work of the fast track court at the prison and the continued support from UNDP and donor partners in the operationalization of specialized courts to address sexual and gender-based violence in various parts of the country.
Justice Minister Dean appealed for assistance from development partners to assist in the construction of a new corrections facility at a 40-acre land which has been secured by the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The idea behind the construction is to engage inmates in farming activities to enable them to produce their own food.
The Swedish Government representative Ms. Elizabeth Harleman emphasized that the programme was critical and encouraged its establishment in all corrections facilities nation-wide.
She pledged Sweden’s commitment to increasing access to justice in Liberia.
Harleman welcomed the Government’s commitment to reduce the rate of pre-trial detention from 63% to 20% which according to her, is a good target.
She noted that several people are on pre-trial detention and have stayed for long periods without facing trial.
“This continues to undermine justice, and, in some instances, there are no separate rooms for male and female inmates,” she reiterated.
Elizabeth Harleman further acknowledged the efforts being made by civil society organizations in reducing pre-trial detainees.
At the same time, Ireland’s Representative in Liberia, Ms. Rachel Fitzpatrick in her remarks said, that her Government is engaged in supporting rehabilitation programme in prisons as a new area of focus.
She noted that rehabilitation programmes provide a greater opportunity for inmates to be self-sufficient upon release.
Earlier, the Chief Technical Advisor for the UNDP/OHCHR Rule of Law Joint programme Rowland Cole, noted that correction institutions worldwide are normally forgotten in terms of funding and this puts a lot of pressure on the entire criminal justice chain.
Cole added that rehabilitation of inmates is most critical in reducing the rate of relapse as they return to their communities.
He stressed that the underlying principles of imprisonment are retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and, reform and rehabilitation.
“It is important to break the chain or socio-economic disadvantage that causes inmates to reoffend and make them employable; and that is why this programme is important”, Cole said.
He mentioned that UNDP will be more interested in tracking the impact of the programme as it progresses, taking into account the numbers trained and employed as qualified tailors or entrepreneurs under the tailoring and soap making initiatives.
On sustainability, Cole was delighted to learn that the programme has already considered training correction officers as instructors to ensure the sustainability and continuity of the programme.