REMANDEES at one of the country’s prisons sent a clear message to law enforcement agencies on Tuesday.
Some have been in prison for five or 10 years waiting for hearing or confirmation of trial details.
The legal pathway is available for them, who are alleged offenders, but the verdict is not happening promptly.
It is justice delayed for the 173 remandees.
This is one contributing factor to the continuous issue of overcrowding or food shortages in prisons around the country.
Past Correctional Commissioners and Ministers have highlighted this concern and it is still here.
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.
Psychologically, a remandee can be affected when he is surrounded by barbed wire fence, knowing that he is still innocent.
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 left for the remandee goes out the window when days turn into weeks, months and years.
And when they escape, they get slapped with another charge, escaping from lawful custody and this time, there is evidence.
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.
Former minister Chris Nangoi had proposed for changes to mitigate the number of remandees sent to prisons and it would not hurt if it’s considered:
- NO remandee should be accepted into any prison without a complete court file (That excludes remandees for wilful murder, rape and attempted murder. Remandees will be returned to police cells until files are completed);
- THE district and committal courts must reject incomplete court files by police (the police practice of ‘holding charges’ must stop);
- WARRANT of remand must not be released to police until a completed court file is presented;
- REMANDEES for summary offences should be processed and closed within a month;
- REMANDEES for criminal code cases should be processed and closed within three months;
- ALL major prison (level 4) should have a court house and permanent magistrate, whilst judges can do court circuits;
- POLICE bail must be made applicable to all summary offences cases. Minor offenders take up spaces in the prisons and costs the state to feed and manage them; and
- POLICE to improve in investigations and successful conviction of cases.
No one expects change and improvements, however, there must be a start now before the Correctional Services becomes overwhelmed by a crisis.