Prison service needs complete overhaul
Montagne Posee prison; the building looks more like
a resort than a prison
During colonial times, the prison services were organised along the British system with the main facility situated at Union Vale. It was well compartmentalised consisting of the juvenile prison and separate blocks for males and females including housing for official for the prison services and workshops offering prisoners the opportunity to learn a trade as well allowing prison authorities to achieve a great level of autonomy and self-sufficiency in terms of the administrative requirements of the prison itself. Prisoners would work in agriculture as well as carry out maintenance work on the buildings, build new blocks when needed, sew, wash and mend their own clothing among many other activities for which they were paid an hourly rate inferior to the wages of free men. They also worked in communities and could be seen setting up tents and other mobile structures for national events. Their accumulated earnings were given to them on completion of their sentences giving them a head start once freed. There was a well-established scheme of service and promotion followed well laid out guidelines.
After the coup in 1977, all that changed. The prison services had to deal with a special kind of prisoners and administration; the many that had been detained by presidential order and the ad hoc administrators incorporated to oversee their assigned special responsibilities. Ultimately, the Union Vale Prison closed down entirely and the prisons moved to Long Island. Subsequently the High Security Prison was moved to Grand Police and the prisons was transferred under military control; the damage had been done.
When government decided to lease Long Island for a hotel development, the prisons had to move and the funders of Shangri-La Resorts funded the construction of what is now the Montagne Posee prison but the authorities decided to use two outer islands as prisons to complement the main facility at Montagne Posee. For the past two decades or so, the Superintendents of Prison have not been career prison officers. They have been handpicked individuals sent to crisis manage the deteriorating situation; none of them have succeeded. The end result has been that the level of discipline has gone down, morale has dwindled and the prison has become a haven for drugs and other vices. Seychelles even topped the world in terms of incarceration rate and was still heading skywards when government took the decision to review the drug law which would enable a tribunal to release some prisoners and reverse the trend. With the presidential pardon on New Year’s Day, the prison population had effectively been reduced to 50% of what it was during the same period a year earlier and a new administration appointed to address the many lacunas; a massive challenge altogether.
Only prisoners are welcomed there
To effectively manage and control three prisons on three separate islands is no easy task; it dilutes the effective use of the meagre resources available. With the recent decision to close down Marie Louise prison where millions was being spent to maintain 19 prisoners and few guards, better use will be made of resources but the major difficulty is with the Montagne Posee prison; it has not been designed like a prison and the retention of Coetivy as a rehabilitation center will not help. Neither will a remand prison situated away from the main prison; it is only a band aid for the short term. The answer lies in building a better prison that will meet the national need but that will not happen immediately as allowance has not been made in the budget yet.
Government has to rethink its approach towards prison design and provide the prison services with the necessary infrastructure to improve rehabilitation rates. It has also to generate revenue through the effective management of the prisons. Apart from ensuring that prison design meet human rights standards and humane treatment for inmates, it must also send a message to everyone walking into the prisons: what to expect and what the limits of behaviour are. It should be a place where prisoners can live, stay in contact with their families, work, play sport, be educated but without making it their home. If prisoners are to lead a more law abiding life when they leave, it is essential to design buildings so they can keep up with social practices and community life.
Vic Tirant, the new Superintendent of Prisons. Is he and
his advisors up to the task?
The location is also vital. We have to reject the notion that prisons should be isolated hence the decision to turn to remote islands. Prisons need to be where people are, near large population centres: prisons need staff; prisoners need to attend courts, lawyers need to see their clients. Prisons depend on community services and in return prisoners need to render services to the community as part of their rehabilitation and reintegration process and families need to visit. Location in itself will have a critical impact on prison budget. Location is a critical element in cost effectiveness.
With proper infrastructure supported by a well-defined scheme of service, the right management team and trained prison officers to provide security, supervision and rehabilitation of those people sentenced to prison by the courts, the prison services will be in a position to make its contribution towards national wellbeing but that is easier said than done.
Source: Weekly 2-24-17