Liberia’s largest prison, the Monrovia Central Prison, has begun turning away new inmates due to overcrowding and fears of disease outbreak, the justice ministry and prison officials have said.
Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean, told the BBC that those being denied admission at the facility were inmates accused of minor offences.
“Where no damage was done or nobody was wounded, people arrested on minor charges are to instead be returned to communities and kept under the watch of community leaders,” Mr Dean said.
It followed local media reports that prison guards were refusing to admit new inmates as part of an ongoing strike over a delay of salaries. Prison officials have denied the claim.
The prison was built to hold
around 300 inmates when the population of Monrovia was about 300,000. It now holds over 1,600 inmates in a city of about 1.5 million people.
Inmates at the facility included convicted murderers and armed robbers.
“Of course when there is an increase in population, correspondingly there’s an increase in crime rate,” Mr Dean said. “And there’s a challenge.”
Engineers from the ministry of public works are working on a blueprint to construct additional wings of the prison that will take up to 1,000 inmates, according to the justice minister.
The national director of prisons, Rev. S Sainleseh Kwaidah, confirmed that the lack of proper food for prisoners was one of the many challenges he faced.
He blamed the shortfall on delays in the government releasing funds that should be supplied monthly.
For example, the money intended for food in September was only received after Christmas, he told the BBC.
As a result, prison superintendents had to “go on borrowing money here and there” to feed inmates.
One of the problems, Rev. Kwaidah said, was that the only item in the national budget dealing with prisons was labelled “prison subsistence”.