New courthouse meeting old challenges

Editorial

THE new National Courthouse which opened in Lae on Friday should reduce the many challenges faced by the Correctional Services, especially at the Buimo jail.
The main issue is overcrowding which has been a concern for many years.
The jail capacity is 450 but at the moment it is holding up to 1000 prisoners and remandees.
The courthouse will release the pressure on limited resources and manpower also being faced at Buimo.
Almost every year, Buimo records at least two jail breaks and from statistics released from the jail, most of those who dash for freedom are remandees or what some term as “alleged offenders” mostly on administrative issues.
Sometimes alleged offenders on remand are held in custody before and during their trial (on criminal charges) by order of the court.
Jail break reports point to the frustration of remandees and prisoners over the jail management teams not attending to their complaints to segregate detainees with tuberculosis, dysentery, diarrhoea and other airborne diseases from those who are healthy.
The new courthouse, located in the Buimo precinct, will see more cases heard quickly, unlike in the past, where cases were delayed for up to a year or more.
The Buimo National Court house is the second to be built in the country, with Bomana being the first to be commissioned within the precincts of the prison.
The amount of time remanded prisoners spend in custody can vary widely, depending largely on the time it takes to prepare evidence for the trial.
Detainees are simply awaiting trial by courts and each has as good as half a chance to be freed at the end of their trial.
They are presumed innocent of any offence for which the person is remanded; and the detention is not imposed as punishment of the remandee.
Generally, remandees will be held in special remand facilities and will have fewer restrictions placed on them than convicted prisoners. An alleged offender is remanded in custody by a court if they:

  • Have not applied for bail;
  • have been refused bail;
  • cannot meet bail or provide a surety; or,
  • Are unable or unwilling to meet the conditions set out in the bail bond.

The agony of waiting for their day in court in PNG prisons has led to frustration and, might we add, it’s injustice to those who are innocent.
Holding them for long periods is like sentencing them without trial.
Whatever little hope is left for the remandee goes out the window when days turn into weeks, months and years.
And when they escape, they get slapped another charge of escaping from lawful custody and this time, there is evidence. While it’s all good to ease up the backlog of cases, the challenge now is with new cases.
How far and fast the cases are scheduled for hearing falls on the process line involving police (investigations and prosecuting) and prosecutors (who should be ensuring the cases are heard as soon as possible).
The buck has always been passed from one authority to another for the delay in hearing remandee cases – police files not ready so prosecution cannot proceed and most times, the files go to the bottom of the pile.
No one expects change and improvements, however, there must be a start now before Correctional Services becomes overwhelmed by a crisis.

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