Time to fix up our jails

Editorial, Normal

CRIMINALS are the scourge of this society.
The less said about them, the better. The less society has to do with them, the better too.
That is why there exist jails throughout the world where criminals are put away for a long time; to keep them from hurting society again and, also, in the hope that deprivation of their freedom might force them to do a rethink and reform their ways.
Five defenceless prisoners were mowed down in cold blood last Friday at Baisu jail in the Western Highlands during a prison breakout. Another has died in hospital from injuries sustained in the shooting. Several others have been hospitalised. Some have been recaptured while a large number is still at large.
While warders are authorised to shoot escaping prisoners, there are set procedures that must be followed. While an inquiry into the shooting is expected to establish whether or not these procedures were followed, the circumstances giving rise to this particular breakout provides a telling commentary on the appalling standard of correctional service provided by the state in this country.
The irony to this story is that the six prisoners, who met their death at the hands of their minders, were trying to escape death.
Three prisoners had died only a few days earlier from dysentery and other symptoms which suggested an outbreak of cholera.
The prison itself has reportedly been condemned by health authorities as being unfit for human habitation and ordered closed and vacated. Prisoners were actually being moved to other prisons throughout the highlands; the first batch of 50 having been dispatched to Chimbu’s Barawagi prison last Saturday.
When the disease outbreak threatened, the prisoners panicked.
On that fateful Friday, prisoners were gathered in the compound clamouring for faster processing of the transfers to other prisons. They expressed concern about their health and safety following an outbreak of dysentery and suspected cholera which had claimed three lives. Many others were suffering from similar symptoms and were on medication at the time of the jailbreak.
A smart aleck officer yelled out to the prisoners and told them that “there is no money” to transfer them and that they would have to stay on in Baisu.
He then told the warders to round up the prisoners and lock them up in their cells.
That is when the prisoners rioted.
When two officers tried to herd the prisoners back to the condemned cells, the prisoners overpowered them and headed for the gate and freedom. And, the warders opened fire on them.
Justice Graham Ellis had directed earlier that Mukurumanda jail in Enga should be opened and operating so that prisoners from that province could be incarcerated there.
That singular failure has resulted in Engan prisoners being shot dead last Friday and another who died from the illness earlier.
And, this is the state of affairs in prisons around the country as the minister for correctional services and his commissioner fly overseas to inspect or order more guns for the service.
More guns might mean more trigger-happy warders and more deaths in prisons around the country.
What is needed is better discipline, better pay and other terms of employment, more personnel, improved security including fencing, security cameras, metal detectors and lighting.
While all these basic needs are begging attention, we get announcements in the media that the service will buy K9 million worth of guns and munitions. It does not matter a whit whether the guns will fire non-lethal munitions. It does not matter a whit that the minister has since retracted his stance and said he was only looking.
The minister and commissioner ought to be looking in-country at the appalling situation in each prison, and attend to them. A tiny percentage of that K9 million could have transferred all the prisoners out of Baisu and clean up the jail as well as open up Enga’s Mukurumanda prison.
We have a unique case here where prisoners are trying to escape prison to escape death when, everywhere else, jailbreaks are almost always in search of freedom.
It is time to stop the high-flying and the political hype and get to the heart of the matter.
Fix up our jails.
The CIS hierarchy must provide an explanation as to why there are millions of kina available to buy guns but, in the prisons where it matters, there is no money to make simple transfers or provide healthy jails.