The Chronicle Gambia

Starved of Justice: Janjangbureh and Jeshwang Prisoners’ Long Wait for Trial

In Jeshwang and Janjangbureh prisons, dozens of people are being jailed for months or years for various alleged crimes without being convicted as they wait to appear in court for trial.

When President Adama Barrow came to power, he named prison reform, including facilitating speedy trials of inmates as one of his top priorities. But the echoes of the prisoners in two of the country’s most prominent prisons seem to show that the problem is growing unabated.

Ansumana Jarju has been remanded at Jeshwang Prison for the past four-and-a-half years ago for alleged bank robbery and has not appeared in court for the past nine months. “This situation is really frustrating. I think fair and speedy trial is my right as a Gambian and not a privilege,” he tells The Chronicle reporter during a prison visit.

Ansumana is now worried that he may have to spend many more years in prison without trial.

Muhammed Jaw has been held at Jeshwang Prison for the last six years for alleged murder. His trial hasn’t progressed for the past one year. Tired and frustrated, he wants the government to look into the backlog of cases, especially those of the remand wing inmates.

Beds used by Janjangbureh prison inmates

Salieu Jallow, a Guinean national at Janjangbureh Prison has been waiting for months for his trial. Charged with money doubling, he hopes his trial will kick off soon. “Being kept here without trial is having psychological effects on me and my family,” he says.

Prison authorities often blame the judiciary for the long detention of inmates without trial. “It’s not the responsibility of the Prison Department to decide who should or should not appear in court. Such decisions are the responsibility of the magistrates who’re handling the cases of inmates,” Bubacarr Jatta, the Commissioner of Janjanbureh Prison tells The Chronicle.

According to him, the prison officers only act on files that are brought before them usually by clerks of the court, adding that “this is what determines whether an inmate should appear in court or not.

A former magistrate who is familiar with cases of prison inmates argues that “it’s understandable that we have all these cases sitting there while the people at the center of them are languishing in jail not know whether they’ll ever come out. The magistrates in this country are overworked and underpaid.”

The ex-magistrate who doesn’t want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of his current job, adds, “I feel sorry for those poor inmates but unless the government starts to pay attention to the plight of magistrates, cases and justice will always be delayed.”

In February 2017, President Adama Barrow promised series of prison reforms, including building new prisons to meet international standards. So far, there’s no such new prison. But that doesn’t matter to the inmates hopelessly sitting in prison cells waiting for opportunities to appear in court. They just want a speedy trial.

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