Prison breakouts becoming regular

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday June 11th, 2015

 LAST Friday’s breakout from Morobe’s Buimo jail is nothing new but only adds another dimension to the country’s growing concerns of security. 

Prison breakouts have become too common. 

The breakout is, as Governor Kelly Naru pointed out, a wake-up call and urged the government to upgrade prison facilities. 

Naru, a veteran lawyer who has had his day in court for many criminal or civil matters, puts the long delays in the justice system down to police investigations not conducted and concluded in a timely fashion.

The figure supplied by the prison authorities – 52 remandees and only four convicts – highlights the big problem facing prisons in PNG.  

There is an unnecessarily large number of people awaiting court appearances compared to inmates serving terms.

Naru pointed out that the overcrowding at prisons, especially by remandees awaiting their trials, is not to do with courts. 

It is to do with police investigations and prosecutions that delay their functions due to rundown buildings without appropriate equipment for officers to write reports or vehicles and fuel to conduct investigations.

Naru’s comments are simillar to observations made by the late Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek in a presentation at the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law in June 2006.

As Public Prosecutor then, Manek spoke of the high number of remandees or detainees awaiting trial at the country’s prisons as an indication of an ineffective justice system.

The Constitution affords all persons the full protection of the law and specifically states that it applies to persons in custody or charged with an offence.

The Constitution  seeks to ensure that a person charged with a criminal offence will have a fair hearing within a reasonable time.

Prior to being appointed the Public Prosecutor Manex occupied the position of Public Solicitor and in that position he was concerned that many of the clients represented by his office were waiting inordinate lengths of time to have their cases resolved. 

He was concerned at the conditions under which those clients were being detained.

Manek further pointed out in his presentation that since Independence in 1975 there has been a decrease in the number of persons serving sentences whilst proportionally the number of remandees has increased. 

Section 37(3) of the Constitution (Protection of the Law) provides that a person charged with an offence shall, unless the charge is withdrawn be afforded a fair hearing with a reasonable time, by an independent and impartial court. 

That, however is not the case in many criminal cases and this is the reason for the overcrowding in prisons.

With the decrease in convicted prisoners held in gaol one might suggest that Papua New Guineans have become more law abiding but unfortunately that is far from reality. 

The criminal justice system has become less capable of investigating, arresting and successfully processing criminal offenders in a timely and efficient manner. 

This has led to increased remand populations and decreasing convicted populations.

“Remandees awaiting unreasonable delays are a symptom of a system that is inefficient or not working. Papua New Guinea is undertaking action to unblock and streamline the system,” Manek said. 

“It is hoped that it will lead to a criminal justice system that is more appropriate and affordable.” 

That was Chronox Manek on June 14, 2006. 

Nine years on, has this situation changed much? 

That question is best answered by the agencies of law enforcement but the view from outside is that very little has changed.  

In the absence of full logistical capability, the prison authorities can only bank on the public’s cooperation to help recapture the escapees or expect common sense to steer them to surrender.  

Following the escape of prisoners from Buimo, Correctional Services Minister Jim Simatab announced plans to hold a national summit to draw government 

and public attention of the status of the country’s prisons. 

Meetings of such nature have been seen as talk fests but this, if it does come about, should be a platform to chart a radical reform to the Correctional Services and a big step in improving the justice system overall.