Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 9 July 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 13, 2010

Editorial            Click here to read L’express Weekly

Can he talk his way out?

The episode of the jailbreak and the manhunt which is going on for those who are still at large has lifted the conditions in our prisons from news pieces which we looked at every now and then with mild interest and turned them into something everyone can chime in on. But, really, did it bring anything new? As far back as 2004, the then commissioner of prisons, Bill Duff, qualified our prisons as “institutions on the verge of collapse” and talked openly about the problems that we all know: drug traffi cking in the corridors of prisons and detention centres, “in connivance with officers of these institutions”, mobile phones (don’t these need to be regularly recharged?!) illegal betting, Aids, theft and general racketeering. If you add to these rape and harassment, you have the full picture. Bill Duff acknowledged then that “80% of detainees were locked up for drug-related crimes.

Six years on and one commissioner of prisons later, the situation is the same. This means that at best, we have been treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Overcrowding added fuel to an already blazing fire and the ease with which the 34 escapees managed to get out is disconcerting. Now with two of the most allegedly dangerous prisoners still on the run (the police being too busy arresting journalists and social workers), a string of guards being accused of collusion and enticing sums of money involved, the finger being pointed at the commissioner of prisons will not fl inch. In all posts of responsibility, when something goes badly wrong, the buck goes no further.

The question is not even whether he should take responsibility for the failure of his staff or not. The problem goes beyond that and begs the question of what Mr. Lingamanaicker Vijayanarayanan has contributed to the situation in our prisons since he took over on an expatriate’s salary. As someone at the top of an organization, he is expected to set the vision for his team, manage it properly and take overall responsibility for the ship; it is the value he adds which should make the difference. So, what value did he add to our prisons if the problems diagnosed six years earlier are the same if not worse today? What did he propose as a long-term plan of action for penal reform and improving the administration of criminal justice?

On another level, it has now transpired that some of the major issues in prison are the lack of segregation of criminals from those who are presumed innocent. Segregation by type of crime and age are also vital in stopping the crime trend.

Prisoners need to be classified and housed according to their level of risk. Lower risk groups require less security and can be managed on a lower security basis.

But above all, overcrowded prisons are more difficult to manage and are frequently plagued by increased conflict and violence. This is caused particularly by a slow court system and, as a result, the number of remand or non-sentenced prisoners increases substantially. For justice to be effective, it has to be quick both for those awaiting trial and the victims of crime.

Dealing with this problem looks urgent. As for the professionalization of correctional officers, well, the commissioner of prisons has talked his way out of all situations so far. How will he talk his way out of this one?

weekly@lexpress.mu

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