Liberia: 'Coronavirus Outbreak in Prisons Would Be a Disaster' - Bureau of Corrections Chief

Monrovia — Assistant Justice Minister for Correction and Rehabilitation Eddie Trawali predicts says if there's an outbreak of the coronavirus in any of the 16 prison facilities across Liberia, it will be a national disaster.

Liberia currently has three confirmed cases of the Covid-19 and three additional suspected while several of people are being quarantined.

And according to Minister Trawali, the virus would unprecedentedly spread among inmates and convicts at various prison centers if the necessary support is not provided now.

"We don't have the first dime to fight this virus... organizations must come to help the prisons; bring some resources or logistics. Imagine one outbreak in the prison, is a sporadic disaster. It's not going to be an ordinary thing," Trawali warned.

"If you go to all of our prisons, you will see that there are lots of interactions between many people. It is important that these institutions must take into consideration the prisons in terms of how we can help to fight this coronavirus in a very responsive manner and form".

He was speaking Thursday, 26 March during a news conference at the Ministry of Justice in Sinkor, Monrovia.

The head of Liberia's correction bureau maintained that if the fight against Covid-19 is to be intensive, authorities of the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) and the Ministry of Health should include the prisons in their plan of action.

Minister Trawali pointed out that despite the lack of adequate support, the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation has put in place preventive measures to avert any possible case.

He disclosed that as part of the measures, the bureau is working with the Judiciary to help decongest prisons, adding that "Magistrates' sitting" remains effective to ensure that the cases of pre-trial detainees are speedily adjudicated.

Minister Trawali also pointed out that despite the overcrowdedness of the prisons, authorities have put in place measures to implement social distancing.

He noted that in decongesting the prisons during this time of a national health emergency, only misdemeanor cases will be given preference if the need for decongestion arises.

"If the government is reprimanding a person who actually did something, the issue of decongestion is not just going to be extended to statutory or felonious offenses. It will take effect on misdemeanors cases or cases that are less of offense," he said.

"The government is also working to ensure that we can relocate some of our prisoners to the maximum-security prison in Grand Gedeh [County]; where we have the biggest facility and our convicted inmates. We want to transfer some of our inmates there and be able to mitigate some of the issues we are faced with when it comes to decongestion."

He said statistic shows a drop in the admission of inmates at various prison centers across the country, adding that more inmates are being released on a daily basis as compared to the rate of admission.

At the same time, the Director of Prisons of the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Mr. Edwin Folley McGill disclosed that there will be a temporary suspension of visitations at various prisons across the country.

He noted that loved ones, family members, neighbors and others will not be allowed to visit their relatives or friends amid the threat of the Covid-19.

He pointed out that a system, which is in line with the social distancing protocol, has been set up to enhance the delivery of food and essential items to inmates.

Mr. McGill added that regular temperature checks will be conducted on all persons, including lawyers before granting them access to prison facilities.

He, however, mandated prison superintendents to continue "fresh air and exercise activities for all offenders, including juveniles"

"Ensure that all persons entering prison facilities wash their hands properly before granting them access. Ensure that at least three hand-washing stations are set up in each prison for inmates, prison staff, and other authorized persons to wash their hands at least three (3) times daily," he said.

He indicated that all heads of prisons will also ensure that newly admitted inmates are medically screened and isolated from the general inmate population for an observational period of 14 days.

McGill added that any suspected case will be immediately referred to the health workers.

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