Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits practices such as torture and inhuman treatment. Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code provide criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and address permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. Nonetheless, police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. Unlike previous years, the LNP did not report any cases of rape or sexual assault by police officers.
In a report released in August, the Liberian Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported that in August 2017, a corrections officer at Harper Central Prison severely beat a pretrial detainee for refusing to get the officer water from a nearby creek. After an internal investigation, the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) suspended the officer for one month.
The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which closed its mission in March, had received four reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse for the year. All incidents reported during the year occurred in 2016 or earlier, and all investigations were pending. Three reports of sexual exploitation were filed against a military contingent member from Namibia, a member of the UN police from Gambia, and a military observer from Ethiopia. The fourth report implicated four individuals from Nigeria; three military contingent members for alleged sexual exploitation and one military contingent member for rape. The United Nations substantiated three of the six cases from the previous year and repatriated the accused individuals, including one report against a military contingent member from Nepal accused of sexual assault, one report against a military contingent member from Nigeria accused of a sexually exploitative relationship, and one report against a military contingent member from Ghana accused of sexual exploitation. The remaining reports were still under investigation as of November.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, failing infrastructure, and inadequate medical care. Prisoners and independent prison monitors often noted that prisons had inadequate food.
Physical Conditions: Inadequate space, bedding and mosquito netting, food, sanitation, ventilation, cooling, lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and potable water contributed to harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions in the 15 prisons and one detention center. Many prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The BCR sometimes used farming to supplement food rations. According to the BCR, the government’s food allocation is sufficient to meet daily calorie requirements, and both the allocation to prisons and distribution to prisoners were tracked by the BCR and were available upon request. The BCR reported that poor road conditions during the rainy season frequently delayed food delivery in the southeast, during which time prison superintendents supplemented normal rations with locally grown food and donations from family and friends of inmates.
The BCR reported six prisoner deaths through August 29. According to the BCR, the deaths were due to medical reasons, like tuberculosis or malaria, and none resulted from prison violence or mistreatment of prisoners.
Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem. The BCR reported the prison population in the country was almost twice the planned capacity. In seven of the 16 BCR facilities, detention figures were 100 to 450 percent more than planned capacity. According to the BCR, approximately one-half of the country’s 2,426 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP). MCP’s official capacity is 374 detainees, but the prison held 1,180 in December, of whom 76 percent (901) were pretrial detainees. As of August 29, the prison population countrywide included 60 women, of whom 21 were assigned to the MCP, which also held 10 male juveniles, all of whom were in pretrial detention. The BCR administration complained of understaffing. No comprehensive staffing document existed to verify BCR staffing claims.
In some locations, the BCR relied on the LNP to provide court and medical escorts; other locations relied on court officers to transport prisoners to court; still other locations reportedly called the county ambulance to transport prisoners and escorts to the hospital or placed prisoners on the back of motorcycles. There were reports that the BCR also used the superintendent or the county attorney’s vehicle to transport prisoners. The MCP lacked adequate vehicles and fuel for its needs; some staff reportedly paid for fuel themselves.
The Ministry of Justice funded the BCR, which did not have a specific funding allocation beyond those funds under the national budget. The BCR lacked funds for the maintenance of prison facilities, fuel, vehicle maintenance, cellular or internet communications, and regular and timely payment of employees, which remained a government-wide problem. According to the INCHR, prison conditions were not in compliance with the country’s own legal standards for prisons. According to Prison Fellowship Liberia (PFL), most prisons and detention facilities were in unacceptable condition and often had leaking roofs, cracks in the walls, limited or no lighting, and in some cases lacked septic tanks or electricity.
Medical services were available at most of the prisons but not on a daily or 24-hour basis. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was at the MCP. Medical staff at the MCP only worked during the day. Health-care workers visited most other prisons and detention centers one to two times per week; they were not always timely, and facilities could go weeks without medical staff.
The Ministry of Health and county health teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines. The budget of the Ministry of Justice included a small line item to supplement medicines to cover those that the Ministry of Health could not provide. The Carter Center and Don Bosco Catholic Services provided some medical services, medicines, nutritional supplements, food, and related training to improve basic conditions at the MCP. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Partners in Health and the Ministry of Health generally provided health services to facilities. The supply chain for medicines was weak throughout the country; prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. NGOs and community groups also provided medicines to treat seizures, skin infections, and mental health conditions. The ministry and county health teams replenished medications to treat malaria and tuberculosis only when stocks were exhausted. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates often went without medication for lengthy periods.
There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. At the MCP the BCR worked to identify individuals with special needs, including those with tuberculosis, through screening provided by the Ministry of Health and Partners in Health. Although the law provides for compassionate release of prisoners who are ill, such release was uncommon. By law prisoners must be extremely ill for authorities to take up the request for release on compassionate grounds; prisoners sometimes died waiting for authorities to review their cases. Authorities determined whether to release an ill prisoner on an ad hoc basis, and most were quarantined after presenting symptoms rather than being released. As a result inmate health in prisons and the BCR’s ability to respond and contain diseases among the prison population was poor.
Authorities held men and women in separate cellblocks at the MCP, but in counties with smaller detention facilities, authorities designated a single cell for female prisoners and held juveniles in the same cellblock with adults. In Barclayville police manage one cell and the BCR manage another, as there are only two cells in the station; there is no designated cell for females or juveniles. Except at the MCP, which had a juvenile cellblock, children were mostly held in separate cells within adult cellblocks. Because many minors did not have identity documents at the time the court issued commitment orders, they were sometimes misidentified as adults by the courts, issued confinement orders as adults, and therefore held in adult cellblocks. There were also reports by NGOs and observers of inmates in the juvenile facility reaching age 18 who were not transferred to the adult population. According to the PFL, prison staff sometimes held adults with juveniles in the juveniles’ smaller cells. Pretrial detainees were generally held with convicted prisoners.
Conditions for women prisoners were somewhat better than for men; women inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities. According to the INCHR female inmates’ personal hygiene needs were often not addressed. Many female detainees lacked sanitary items unless provided by family; occasionally NGOs donated these items, but stocks ran out quickly.
Administration: The BCR has its own training staff, which as of September conducted one in-service training and five specialized training sessions for a small number of officers. The BCR increased use of its own data collections and systems. Intake reporting expanded to capture data regarding prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. National records officers communicated (via telephone) weekly with facility records officers to collect updated information, and share a monthly roll with county attorneys; however, the transfer of records to Monrovia remained inadequate.
The PFL stated that prison staff sometimes misappropriated food intended for prisoners. Unlike in 2017 the BCR did not report investigations of staff for corruption in the distribution of food.
Independent prison monitors sent complaints of prison conditions and allegations of staff misconduct to the BCR. The BCR stated it would conduct internal investigations into each complaint, but it was unclear if the BCR actually did so.
Authorities sometimes used alternatives to prison sentencing for nonviolent offenders, but courts failed to make adequate efforts to employ alternatives to incarceration at the pretrial stages of criminal proceedings. Courts issued probationary sentences in some cases for nonviolent offenders. Magistrates, however, continued to sentence prisoners convicted of minor offenses to long terms, for cases in which probation prisoner rights advocates believed might have been more appropriate. Public defenders continued to use a plea-bargaining system in some courts. The law provides for bail, including release on the detainee’s own recognizance. The bail system, however, was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. No ombudsman system operated on behalf of prisoners and detainees.
The government did not make public internal reports and investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons. The BCR sometimes made prison statistics publicly available. Although not systematically implemented, BCR media policy dictated release of information, including in response to requests from the public.
The BCR removed a corrections officer and a nurse from their positions after they were caught stealing from a prison pharmacy in July; as of September the BCR turned over the nurse’s case to the Ministry of Health and the officer was suspended pending termination.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the MCP. The INCHR had unfettered access to and visited all facilities. The PFL also had unfettered access to facilities.
Improvements: During the year the BCR reorganized its gender unit so that it was directly involved in the recruitment and training of corrections officers. The BCR reorganized the centralized investigation unit, an independent unit that investigates allegations against corrections staff and recommends disciplinary action, so that investigative officers no longer perform corrections duties. It also expanded the probation department by adding 25 probation officers. The Robertsport Central Prison facility opened in May, with a cellblock for female inmates and a greater number of cells.