Slow trial prompts alarming congestion at Juba Central Prison

Slow trial prompts alarming congestion at Juba Central Prison
Some inmates at the Juba Central Prison (photo credit: Ikilass Henry/The City Review)

Juba Central Prison has raised concerns over the increased number of inmates which has outstretched the facility.

The prison said the number of inmates was increasing by 10 per cent per year,  a rate which is alarming and quite unsustainable. Currently, there are 2,100 inmates in the prison.

South Sudan National Prison Services Spokesperson, Anthony Oliver Legge, said the number of suspects in remand is more than those convicted.

He said 973 people are already convicted by the courts of law and now serving their sentences, while those on the remand waiting to be investigated and tried are 1,127.

Oliver added that the delay stemming from the slow-paced investigations of the suspects is the major challenge causing congestion at the prison.

 “This is what we call non-speedy trial because the prisoners are being taken to court daily and we are coming back with them after the court session. The judiciary has their reason,” Oliver told The City Review in an exclusive interview.

Slow-paced trial

 “We have other groups in the remand who are under investigation and up to now [they have] not finished [investigations]. The police and public prosecutor has the reason but the South Sudan National Prison Services mandate is the restorative justice and rehabilitation of those imprisoned,” he added.

He said another responsibility of the prison service is to check the legality of the remand for the prisoners to ensure that the remand warrants are legal and valid.

The majority of the inmates who are waiting for trial are between the age of 18 to 30-year-old.

“Non-speedy trial and incomplete investigation procedure create the problem of overstaying of the remand resulting to congestion of the prison,” Oliver said.

He said overpopulation had led to congestion in the facility because of a lack of space. He added the inmates did not take the COVID-19 measures put in place by the ministry of health.

“After all, there is no social distancing among them because of overpopulation in the centre.”

He said some of the few prevailing cases of the coronavirus in the country still make the national prison service authorities be worried over the health of the inmates.

“We have some of the cases of convicted prisoners who are having other cases. They are supposed to be taken to the court session but we have challenges with the transportation system,” Oliver stressed.

He said for some who were remanded, it is the responsibility of the police and judiciary to do so.

There is no problem with feeding and medication because the prison has enough food and primary health care supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] and the State Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

“We have full services in the area of feeding and medication because it is being supported,” he said.

Oliver said Juba Central Prison is adhering to the human rights requirements by ensuring the treatment of prisoners.

Last week, Chol’s family lamented that his health condition was deteriorating after spending nearly 30 days on hunger strike demanding his release. Chol told the government to free him or arraign him.

However, the administration of National Prison Services at Juba Central Prison gave an assurance that the self-proclaimed prophet Abraham Chol is in good health condition.

In July, the authorities said there were 1,900 inmates at Juba main prison who were waiting for justice but only 500 of them had been tried.

Some of them who were set free during the 10th Independence Anniversary of South Sudan admitted that they did not know where their cases had ended. Many of them said they had spent many years without seeing their complainants.

Executive Director for Justice and Human Rights Observatory South Sudan, Godfrey Victor Bulla earlier this year lamented the inaccessibility of justice as a stumbling block that keeps some of the inmates in prison for long. 

He said most inmates across the country are innocent but due to lack of money for hiring lawyers to represent them in the court of law makes them overstay in the prison.

Bulla, a defence lawyer of some of the inmates, said there is a need for collaboration with Juba Central Prison to release inmates with minor cases.

Deputy Director-General for Juba Central Prison, Pak Anjar Longa, said overcrowding makes it difficult for the prison authority to deliver services to the inmates.

He urged the Judiciary to consider the backlog of the inmates waiting for their trial to ease the overwhelmed facility.

Juba Central Prison was designed to accommodate only 400 inmates among them males, females, and juveniles, under whose docket did South Sudan National Prison Services fall.

Blame games

The delay in the trial has created finger-pointing between the Judiciary and the police, where the Deputy Chief Justice Dr John Gatwech Lul accused the police of often delaying cases by detaining individuals and failing to conduct investigations promptly as required. 

“This is a question which can be answered not only by the Judiciary because the Judiciary is not the one that arrests people and detains them especially when we talk about criminal cases. 

“It starts with the police and the prosecutors, and, if they have not finished the investigation, we have no way to come in,” Gatwech said during a round table session organised by the government and United Nations High Commission for Refugees this month.

However, the Police spokesperson Maj Gen. Daniel Justin dismissed the statement, saying the delay in the justice process is not caused by the police.

He said the police often work under the supervision of the Attorney General who evaluates all cases investigated by the police before sending them to court.

 “With the case, the system of the court does not mean that we are just to file every case to court anyhow because at the investigation level if there is not enough evidence then the attorney general has the right by later to cancel the case.”