Condemned men in condemned cells

Normal, Weekender

The sub-human standards of our prisons has contributed towards making monsters out of menaces, writes JULIA DAIA BORE

ON the (toilet) floor you will see a piece of rubber-hose.  To the left of that hose is a plastic tub of dirty water.  The (toilet) system is that one end of the hose is put in the water and the prisoner sucks on the other end in order to get the water to come out and flush the toilet. 
“That means that, on average, 89 people suck on the end of the hose each day.  To make matters worse, when it is not in use the hose is left on the floor of the toilet. 
“You will see that the power of this story comes from the photos which shows the state of the cell, where the prisoners have to be reduced to this fate each time they have to use the toilet – all because they are law-breakers who have been sent to jail.”
These are the words of Enga’s recently designated judge, Justice Graham Ellis.
Justice Graham Ellis made these remarks last weekend to elaborate on a decision he made on Feb 2, 2010 about the “sub-human” treatment of prisoners in Enga province while the responsible government authorities continue to fail to ensure prison facilities and decent cells in the province.
“This all arose from me doing what judges are supposed to do, namely checking on the conditions at the prisons near the area in which they serve,” Justice Ellis stated recently.
In his decision Justice Ellis highlighted the following about the lack of prison facilities in the Enga province.
He said the cells at the Wabag police station were condemned in November 2008 yet it is forced to hold a minimum of 30 prisoners each day.
There is a prison at Mukurumanda with no prisoners in it; and as a result, prisoners from Enga are housed at Baisu which often becomes overcrowded; because it is serving two provinces (Western Highlands and Enga).
“Of course, when I inspected Baisu I found that the problems there were not just overcrowding. I suspect that even in the absence of overcrowding, the problems I found are common to other prisons in PNG,” the judge said.
While handing down his 24-page decision on the state of the lack of a prison in Enga and the appalling state of the condemned Wabag police cells, Justice Ellis said: “Some people may think that imprisonment is all about punishment: putting the person in prison and throwing away the key.
“It is because imprisonment is also about rehabilitation that prisons in PNG are properly called ‘correctional institutions’. If a person is treated like an animal then they behave like an animal.”
He added that judges and magistrates do not send people to prison because they are a menace only to find them come out as a monster because of the way they have been treated while in prison.”
Justice Ellis said there is an “extremely urgent” need for the Enga province to build and equip itself with a proper correctional institution at Mukurumanda.
He said  it was highly necessary for the province to also have an interim remand facility at Mukurumanda and new police cells in Wabag. He said the current police cells, behind the police station was condemned for occupancy in Nov 2008.
“A blind man could find those police cells from a distance of about 15 meters due to the unmistakable stench of stale urine. As the water system is not working, there is no running water and that is why water is being conveyed by a hose into a tub. The toilets do not work, they are clogged. There are no lights and the six cells are often required to house between 20 – 30 prisoners. In addition to a sub-standard ‘cook house’, the condition of the building is such that those locked up there could seek to escape by digging underground,” Justice Ellis said.
While handing down this decision, Justice Ellis said the current lack of these facilities amounted to “breaches of the human rights provisions of the Constitution which will continue until something is done to remedy those breaches,” he said.
He called on Enga governor Peter Ipatas who said in the media last February (2009) that his government had allocated K5 million towards the construction of prison facilities at Mukurumanda prison site; to ensure of the release of that funding.
“What has happened to that money, and can some of it be released for the speedy provision of an interim remand facility at Mukurumanda which may well cost less than K100,000 to establish within as little as three months,” Justice Ellis said.
“To me as a judge, it would be inconsistent to send a person who breaks the law to prison and then ignore the fact that he is in prison in a manner which breaks the law.”
He said that prison escapes would continue until the issues of “overcrowding and inadequate funding” were seriously dealt with to ensure that prisoners were effectively and humanely provided for in jail and put through the correctional services for which they were sent to jail for.
“It may therefore be expected that remedying the breaches of the basic human rights of Engan prisoners will have the beneficial effect of reducing the number of escapes,” Justice Ellis said.
In his introductory message of the decision, Justice Ellis said: “ ‘The rule of law’ is a phrase used to describe the system under which people are governed by laws passed by parliament and the courts determine whether one of those laws has been broken and, if so, what orders should be made. For example, when a judge hears a criminal trial, the question to be decided is whether one of the laws of PNG usually a section of the Criminal Code, has been broken by the accused person and, if so, what should be the punishment.”
“The Constitution of the Independent State of PNG (the Constitution) sets minimum standards in a number of areas which are called basic rights (sometimes referred to as human rights). When it appears that those basic rights have been breached, it is not necessary for a judge to wait for someone to make an application and present the case in support of the alleged breach since a judge is permitted to commence an inquiry in order to decide whether those basic rights have been breached and, if so, what orders should be made by the court.
“This is such a case, arising from the conditions under which people from Enga province who have either been sentenced to prison or are awaiting trial are currently being held.”