Fundasaun Mahein, September 22, 2010
Prisons and the Responsbility of Prison Guards in Timor-Leste.
The government of Timor-Leste has recently decided to re(build) prisons in three places including Dili, Baucau, and Gleno districts. Fundasaun Mahein (FM) observes that Timor-Leste, as an independent nation built on the democratic principles, requires a good prison system. FM believes that a detention center is not only a place to house alleged criminals waiting for their trials, but also those serving a sentence for those verdicts when they have been handed down. A detention center is also a place where individuals can be rehabilitated via various activity programs to help the prisoners become better citizens upon their release. A limited number of prisons may also have a negative impact on the human rights of the prisoners. It is for these reasons that FM greatly welcomes the government’s decision to increase the number of prisons and/or rehabilitate the existing prisons Timor-Leste.
FM underlines some of the major problems facing detention centers in Timor-Leste as ranging from the limited budget/funds to rehabilitate prisons, lack of physical development, and the increased number of prisoners that far exceeds the prison guards. All Timorese prisons are not only inadequately equipped with rehabilitative facilities but also remain understaffed. Moreover, the slow Timorese judicial system indicates that the number of prisoners will remain high, if not at its highest level of all time. According to FM, running a detention facility – one that respects democratic and human rights principles- can be immensely challenging under such circumstances.
According to FM, there are less than 200 prison guards currently working in both prisons in Timor-Leste. It is estimated that around 151 guards are working Dili at Becora prison and Gleno prison has around 38 guards. Therefore, FM observed that the number of prison guards is not proportionate with the number of detainees currently housed in both Becora and Gleno prisons.
Presently, there are around 222 detainees within Becora prison (Dili) accommodating around 194 detainees and Gleno houses around 28 detainees. Among these prisoners are also 17 juveniles. However, due to the absence of a separate juvenile facility, all the minors are currently housed with the adults although in a different block. Such a situation, FM believes, may have adverse physical and psychological impact on the juveniles.
FM also recommends that the government provide capacity development programs to the prison guards through comparative studies in countries with well-established prison management. Such programs will enhance their knowledge and expose them to different ways in which other democratic governments run their prison system- one which respects human rights and democratic principles.
Finally, FM also recommends that lawyers (both private and public defenders) should make regular visits to the prisons and particularly their clients to identify and attend to the legal problems the prisoners are facing. Having a regular visit from lawyers will help expose the prisoners to the basics of the law and hence make them feel less intimidated when brought before the court, FM concludes.
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