The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation was established in Liberia in 1978 as a Division under the Ministry of Justice by section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the Republic of Liberia.
As an integral part of the criminal justice system, the Bureau of Corrections has a key responsibility to protect the society by ensuring safe, secure and humane containment of prisoners as well as providing conducive working environment for staff.
To assist in this endeavour, the Corrections Advisory Unit was established within UNMIL to work with the Liberian government to re-establish and strengthen the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation to become accountable and uphold international standards.
The mandate of the Unit is to:
- Provide strategic and technical advice on corrections issues.
- Provide support, expertise and guidance on penal reforms
- Support the infrastructural development and expansion of the Bureau’s facilities
- Develop the Bureau’s human resource through mentoring
- Train the Corrections staff in modern prison management and human rights
- Strengthen the Bureau’s human resource capacity to be able to undertake its responsibilities
- Mainstream human rights and gender issues in the Bureau’s training curricula
- Construct and refurbish prison facilities so as to provide safe, secure and humane living conditions to those in prison custody
- Improve policies and procedures to reflect international guidelines on the treatment of offenders
- Encourage the Bureau to embrace reform initiatives through partnerships with stakeholders
Mentoring and Advising
The Unit has continued to deploy international corrections advisors who are mainly co-located in the prisons to mentor national staff at their duty posts in order to help them develop capabilities to take control and manage situations in their respective working stations. Mentoring focuses on institutional operational issues and is tailored to reinforce the formal training provided at the Academy.
To enhance the national capacity to manage the prisoners and facilities, the Unit’s international staff work with national stakeholders to develop and implement a National Training Plan. The competency-based training programmes that address all areas of prison and prisoner management are being implemented collaboratively with dedicated national staff, to contribute to the development of a national training capacity. Integrating human rights issues into general prison management practices, the training programmes also develop management and administrative capacity of senior staff, promote self sufficiency of the prison system and facilitate the implementation of regional best practices.
The deployment of 167 trained corrections officers, 32 of whom are females, in various facilities nationwide has helped to enhance professionalism and mainstream gender in the Bureau. The Government plans to recruit additional staff in 2013. CAU also conducts interim basic training and management courses for serving corrections staff and superintendents to enable them effectively manage the facilities. In this regard the Unit has initiated in-service training program in all the operational corrections facilities. A Training of Trainers program funded by UNMIL QIPS (2011/2012) was conducted for 24 national corrections officers to facilitate implementation of in-service training in the prisons. Training of trainers (TOT) programmes are also given to a select group of national corrections staff, 15 of whom have been certified as trainers after completing a series of dedicated trainers’ programmes. The national trainers are now involved in delivering training sessions and conducting assessment of trainees, in preparation for the nationals to take over the training programme when UNMIL transitions. CAU has also initiated training on ‘use of non-lethal force’ to assist the national staff in responding to aggressive prisoners or other security incidents within the prison without resorting to lethal interventions.
The Unit continues to build sustainable partnerships both with national and international organizations for humanitarian and developmental support. Substantive donations have been received for the basic care of prisoners in form of food, beddings, reading materials, hygienic materials and agricultural equipment. Some of these organizations include Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, UNDP, UN Women, UNHCR and national and international NGOs such as ICRC, German Agro, Prison Fellowship Liberia, Missionaries of Charity (Catholic), Carter Centre, etc. Linkages have been established between the rule of law institutions, particularly the criminal justice agencies including police, judiciary and prisons. The Unit has also engaged the civil society and other donor agencies in initiatives that promote support to the corrections service of Liberia.
Prison Refurbishment and Rehabilitation
In order to ensure safe separation and security of prisoners, the Unit has continued to assist the Bureau to refurbish and build corrections facilities across the country. Since 2003 to date, UNMIL and other donor-partners have supported BCR to construct corrections facilities: Sanniquellie in Nimba County funded through Emergency window of the Peacebuilding Fund, Tubmanburg and Gbarnga in Bomi and Bong Counties respectively funded by UNCHR.
UNMIL Quick Impact Projects (QIP) has done renovation works in almost all the corrections facilities countrywide including the establishment of basic prison cells at Bopolu, Fishtown and Cestos in Gbarpolu, River Gee and River Cess Counties respectively in 2009/2010 and construction of five health outposts in Monrovia, Kakata, Sanniquellie, Tubmanburg and Zwedru Prisons, pig and rabbit housing structure in Zwedru and a workshop in Buchanan in 2010/2012.
The corrections component has been incorporated in the Liberian Peace Building program. The prison in Gbarnga, Bong County has been upgraded to ensure the complete separation of female and juvenile inmates, provide records office, health out-post and training workshop. As part of the project, 20 corrections officers including seven females are currently undergoing a six-month training and will be deployed within the Hub to improve staffing levels. The Peace Building Commission has also allocated initial funding for the construction of a new facility for sentenced prisoners in Cheesemanburg, Montserrado County. The Sexual and Gender Based Violence Joint Program supported the refurbishment of the female section at Monrovia Prison, and the construction of a separate exercise yard for females and improvement of main gate and sanitation at Tubmanburg Prison. The facilities are regularly monitored by international staff who also provide advice to national staff on best prison management practices.
Security and logistics have considerably improved through procurement of security equipment such as handcuffs and padlocks for the facilities. Sustainable basic prisoners’ activities for convicted prisoners have been initiated in most of the operational facilities. These include: gardening, small live stock rearing, brick and soap making and literacy classes among others.
Health and Sanitation
The prisoners health plan has been incorporated in the National Health Policy following a health assessment conducted by a CAU hired health consultant in 2011. This has led to collaboration between the BCR and the Ministry of Health resulting in regular visits by County Health Teams to the prisons for screening and treatment of prisoners. Inmates’ feeding is now regular, supplemented by farm produce from basic agricultural activities in most facilities. ICRC has been actively involved in improving water and sanitation as well as providing basic medical and welfare support to inmates. The organization has funded soap making project at Monrovia, Zwedru, Gbarnga, Voinjama and Sanniquellie Prisons.
In collaboration with national and international stakeholders, CAU has helped design a Penal Reform Development Plan that guided the legislative review of the penal laws, BCR structure and the medium and long-term development of the Liberian corrections system. To augment this, a policy framework has since been developed and approved by the Liberian Ministry of Justice. Similarly, institutional policies and post orders to guide the operations of the individual facilities have been developed and are being implemented in the facilities. The Unit also continues to guide the national staff in strategic development and management that will enhance operationalization of the penal reform process.
The BCR was also assisted to develop a five year Strategic Plan currently being implemented incrementally to facilitate functionality of the Bureau. A three -year strategic plan for prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration is being implemented; phase one of the program pilot was funded by the government and phase two is being funded with the revolving funds from the first phase.
The condition of the corrections facilities has improved across the country over time through CAU support with significant progress made in the area of rehabilitation, care, custody and control of inmates. The Unit will continue to seek sustainable funding to refurbish dilapidated facilities in counties where they exist and construct new ones where there are none while strategizing on ways to address the acute shortage of staff in the BCR which is impacting negatively on both public and facilities’ security.