Ellis: Conditions of prisons vital

National, Normal

The National – Thursday, December 30, 2010


RETIRING National Court judge Graham Ellis said there are three reasons why the conditions in prisons in PNG should be a matter of public concern.

He said the first reason was that lives are being lost, due to the sub-humane conditions in prisons.

“Lives are being lost. The conditions in Baisu (near Mt Hagen) were such that prisoners died of dysentery. That is not new because the same thing happened at Lakiemata (near Kimbe) only a few years ago,” Ellis said.

He said the second reason was that “the constitution is being breached in that there are minimum standards set in the constitution for the treatment of PNG citizens, including prisoners”.

“The constitution is sometimes referred to as the Mother Law. It is the National Rule Book. 

“It should be of concern when the nation’s leaders do not obey the National Rule Book because once they start ignoring some of the rules in the constitution it suggests that they will ignore other rules in the constitution and if that start then when and where and how will that process stop?

“Thirdly, if the conditions in the nation’s prisons are bad then that will only result in more escapes and attempts to escape. 

“That makes it more dangerous for the members of the public not to forget the prison offices,” Ellis warned.

He was so concerned about prison conditions that he got down on his hands and knees in May and scrubbed the Wabag police cells to ensure that it was inhabitable by humans.

In February, following an inspection of the prison at Baisu, Ellis pointed out the lack of running water and the sub-standard conditions. Ten months later, people died. 

He said recently, that “if something had been done earlier about those problems then those deaths might have been avoided”.  

On Nov 24, when he had the Correctional Services Minister and Commissioner in the witness box in the National Court in Waigani, they agreed to his proposal which involved:

* The preparation of a checklist so that prisons could be brought up to the minimum standard required by the CS Act, the CS Regulations and the Constitution;

*A timetable for achieving that goal which included an inspection of every prison to identify what needed to be done; and

* A system for regular reporting to ensure that the minimum standard, once met, was maintained.

From the reasons for decision delivered the next working day, it was clear that Ellis was going to forward details of his proposal, including a draft checklist, to the National Coordinating Mechanism (NCM) for consideration at its next monthly meeting.

Recent attempts to reach the NCM had been unsuccessful, to determine if they had achieved anything based on Ellis’ recommendations.

It is understood that the NCM was a way in which the Law and Justice Sector co-ordinates things within its sector, towards improving things, including conditions of prisons.  

The NCM meetings are attended by the Chief Justice, the Chief Magistrate, the CS Commissioner, the Police Commissioner, the Public Prosecutor and the Public Solicitor.