Exploiting the opportunity availed to him by a visit to the Central Prison to find out whether Imam Baba Leigh was detained there or not, this reporter decided to check whether the Commissioner would be open enough to answer questions touching on the prison population and the criteria for pardoning prisoners. Mr. Ansumana Manneh, the Commissioner of Administration of The Gambia Prison Services in an interview with Foroyaa at his office on Wednesday 19 December, indicated that the entire number of prisoners in Gambian jails is less than a thousand and less than 20 female prisoners.
Commissioner Manneh indicated that in all the 3 prisons across the country, i.e. Mile II, Old Jeshwang and Jangjanbureh, they have less than 1000 inmates both convicts and remanded prisoners male and female, but failed to state the exact number of inmates in all the prisons. He stated that one thing many people fail to understand is that The Gambia is a small country with a small population. He brushed aside claims that Gambian jails are full to capacity leading to overcrowding in cells. Manneh posited that many would be surprised that there are less than 20 females remanded and convicted inmates in all the jails in The Gambia.
On the issue of pardoning prisoners, Commissioner Manneh said the Prison officers have very little role to play in the process of pardoning. He added that their only role is to submit names of eligible candidates to the "Prison Council" that looks into the good behaviour of convicted inmates and recommends them for pardon by the president. He added that the prison council has the final say as to who would be recommended for release.
On the allegation of recommending names of dead prisoners to the council, Manneh indicated that, that cannot be possible as the prison council has to meet all the recommended prisoners for pardon and would interview them.
On whether there can be mistakes in pardoning prisoners as alleged in the case of Corporal Samba Bah and Ebrima Jallow, whose names were said to have been among the 27 prisoners pardoned by President Jammeh but were not released. Manneh said there cannot be any mistakes in such as each prisoner has a separate file containing the offences they were convicted of and the particular Court that convicted them and how long their sentences shall run. He added that there can be similarities in the names and surnames of prisoners, but they the officers and even the prisoners themselves know how they can be identified without making any mistakes. He added that there are several Samba Bahs and Ebrima Jallows in prison, but that their ages and next of kin cannot be the same. He added that all those that were recommended for a presidential pardon were released.
When put it to him that the families of the duo said they have reliable information that their loved ones were informed of their pardon to the point that they gave out their personal effects to fellow inmates only to be told later that they were not among those to be released, Manneh said the duo might only hear names similar to those pardoned and thought it was them. When informed that Corporal Samba Bah's family said the last time they visited him, he was wearing a band on one of his arms, an indication that he is of good behavior to the authorities and has been abiding by the prison rules and laws and that is a sign that he could be among those to be recommended for a pardon. Manneh said to be wearing the band does not automatically mean that the bearer could be released. He added that the band means that particular prisoner is of good behaviour and such prisoners are not put under strict control or surveillance. He added that such prisoners are giving much time and freedom within the prison. However, he stated, that it does not automatically mean that prisoner is about to be released on pardoned.
When asked why among the 27 prisoners pardoned, not a single female convict was released, Manneh said they have less than 20 female inmates across the country and added that the majority of them are on remand waiting for the outcome of their trial. Commissioner Manneh posited that the Prisons are meant for human beings and they the officers manning them would make sure they function to the best of their ability and do all they can within their mandate to safeguard the lives and welfare of all inmates as stipulated under the Prisons Act.
We do not know which committee the Commissioner is referring to but Section 82(2) of the Constitution of The Gambia provides for a committee as follows:
"There shall be a Committee on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy consisting of the Attorney General and three other persons appointed by the president subject to confirmation by the National Assembly."
Subsection (1) of the same section states:
(1) "The president may, after consulting the Committee established by subsection (2)-
(a) grant to any person convicted of any offence
a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions;
(b) grant to any person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of any punishment imposed on that person for any offence;
(c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on any person for any offence;
(d) remit the whole or any part of any punishment imposed on any person for such an offence or any penalty otherwise due to the State on account of any offence."