Sierra Leone

Taking Action on Human Rights in Sierra Leone’s Prisons

RWI has just completed a week-long Human Rights Action Planning Workshop with the Sierra Leone Correctional Services (SLCS) under the Institute’s new partnership in the country with SLCS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Salimatu Bangura

The event  saw managers from all 19 of Sierra Leone’s correctional centres, as well as regional commanders and headquarters directors, undergo training in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) and develop action plans to increase compliance with the Rules at both local and national levels.

We spoke to Salimatu Bangura, SLCS Southern Regional Commander, about her experiences with the workshop and other project activities.

Tell us about this activity
We are learning about the Mandela Rules and then working on action plans that everyone can take back to their centres to implement, which will improve our compliance with human rights standards.  We started with the Principles of the Rules and then have looked at many different areas where we face challenges in Sierra Leone, ranging from accommodation and security to education, labour and visiting.  We’ve already come up with lots of action plans that we can carry out even with the limited resources available to us.

Can you give us an example of an action plan that you will be implementing?
Having contact with your family whilst imprisoned is a very important right, so we have decided to increase the opportunities for family visits.  From now on they will be allowed every day of the week, for a minimum of 20 minutes, with children also allowed to visit if accompanied.  We’ll also try to arrange special family days when they can come and spend more time together.  This will not only relieve the stress for the inmates, but also help them reintegrate back into society when they leave.

This isn’t the first RWI activity you’ve been involved with, is it?
No, last month I joined an exchange visit to Kenya that was organised as part of the project, and where we were hosted by our counterparts at the Kenya Prisons Service.  This was a great chance to see how another system works and learn from each other about human rights and correctional reform.  We visited maximum, medium and minimum security prisons, as well as facilities for women and children, and I was particularly impressed by the prison in Naivasha, where despite having thousands of inmates, they are still finding ways to keep everyone busy.  Lots of lessons to take back with us, and we made lots of new friends!

I was also recently involved in a human rights audit that took place at Bo Female Correctional Centre in the Southern Region where I am Commander.  A team of SLCS officers with RWI advisors spent a week at the centre making an assessment of the Mandela Rules as well as the Bangkok  Rules for female prisoners, and then delivered a report to the centre manager and myself.  Again we learnt a lot, and this was really useful information to help us address the human rights challenges that we are facing.

 How do you see the future for corrections in Sierra Leone?
There is a big change happening at the moment, as we are moving from a punitive to a correctional system, although of course it is a gradual transition.   These kind of approaches are really helping us, many thanks to RWI and UNDP, and we hope that eventually all of our correctional officers will be able to undergo this kind of training.