House passes Prison Reform Act
The House of Representatives has finally passed into law a bill intended to ensure a drastic reform of the criminal justice system of Liberia, following over year of scrutiny.
In its session Thursday, the House voted unanimously to enact the National Prison Reform Act, a bill sponsored by Margibi County Representative Saar Gbollie.
The Act is intended to make the Correctional Bureau a semi-autonomous agency under the Justice Ministry.
It will ensure people serving prison terms or in detention facilities are rehabilitated to make them good and productive citizens.
The passage came after a report by the House Joint Committee on National Security and Judiciary. In the report, the Joint Committee said: “Mr. Speaker and Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Hon. Saar R. Gbollie, Representative District # 3 Marigi County and House Committee Chairman on National Security, introduced and sponsored a bill which aims at judicial reform in the prison industry. This bill, (THE NATIONAL PRISON REFORM ACT) seeks to amend five chapter of the Criminal Procedure Law; to include: 34, 41, 42, 43 and 44”.
It noted that during the review process of the bill in committee room, two major hearings were conducted where experts in the criminal justice system including civil society representatives and professors of the justice system to debate the merits and demerits of the bill with a view to form a consolidated agreement.
According to the committees arguments were focused on: “The panel argued that section 34.1 which speaks about the detention of prisoner be amended to provide for separate facilities for convicts and pre-trial detainees realizing that convicts are different from accused; as well as taking into account type of crimes committed, age, sex, etc; To maintain the independent of the Bureau, it was resolved at the retreat that instead of the Minister of Justice making the appointments of all Assistant Commissioners, it was agreed that the prison Advisory Board make recommendation to the President for consideration, except the commissioner proper and all Deputies who shall be appointed by the President provided all such appointments shall be subject to confirmation hearing where applicable. On the issue of the Internal Auditor of the bureau as outlined in section 38.11 of the bill, the panelists suggested that instead of the Minister of Justice appointing the auditor, the auditor should be appointed by the administrative discretion of the Bureau; since there is a General Auditing Commission that is charged with the statutory responsibility to audit all government institutions”.
According to the joint committee, “it was also recommended that in order for the National Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation to be functionally effective upon passage into law of this law, there is need to hire foreign experts and train specialist where applicable for the purpose of guarding the process in realization of the preamble and intent upon which this Act was crafted”.
It further that “also topping the debate was the issue of the Bureau being semi-autonomous as enshrined in section 38.1 of the drat Act. The panelists recommended that with the nomenclature “semi-autonomous’ it was important that the bill if passed into law be on the same status like the Liberia National Police, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and other input components of the Criminal Justice System. It was also resolved that the Ministry of Justice would exercise its oversight duty as it does with other law enforcement agencies”.
The joint committee emphasized “as a consequence of he two public hearings, and taking into consideration the divergence of views that was derived, a final bill was emerged through working group comprising actors from the Ministry of Justice and the Joint Committee; accordingly, we crave the indulgence of Plenary for the passage of this bill into law”.
The report by the joint committee led to a number of interventions by members of the House who voiced support for the passage of the bill in a bid to reform the criminal justice system of the country with respect to the corrections section.
CDC Representative Rufus Neufville of Montserrado District # 2 said: “I stand in support of this bill because it’s a just cause”. He was followed by lawmaker Dickson Yarsiah of Gbarpolu County and Unity Party who stressed “I’m in agreement for the passage of this bill but let’s change the nomenclature of Auditor to the status of Office of the Internal Auditor”.
For Representative Eugene Fallah Kparkar of Foya District in Lofa County he observed that “the need for prison reform cannot be over emphasized. It’s time that carry out this reform because in the past prison in Liberia has been a nightmare. We need to make our prison system as it is in other western countries as people go to prison and come out reform and rehabilitated where they become good citizens. I believe many of the armed robbers will be transformed under this bill”.
During the debate, Representative Gbollie also explained that the Prison Reform Act will create employment opportunities for Liberians.
In the vote to pass the bill, the House voted nineteen for, zero against one abstention to pass the Prison Reform Act into law. The Legislation will now be sent to the Senate for concurrence after which it will be sent to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for signing into law and onward printing into handbill.
Representative Gbollie hailed the first breakthrough of the Prison Reform Act saying “It was a giant step taken by the House of Representatives and history will be kind to us for ensuring a major reform in the criminal justice system of our country”.
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