Sri Lanka’s top official of the Department of Prisons has warned lawmakers that the country is unable to cope up with its increasing prison population which results in overcrowding, leading to socio-economic-communal issues.
“The prison's capacity in Sri Lanka is only for 11,672 inmates whereas at present more than double the numbers are locked up. In some prisons, the number of inmates is more than 300-400%, Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya told the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) at its recent review meeting.
With 26,791 prisoners to date, the Prisons Department is unable to meet the challenges of not only maintaining the prisoners but also the socio-economic fall out of such overcrowding, the COPA was told at its recent meeting.
Most of the prisoners are either detained or convicted under drug related offences. Among the 17,502 persons in custody, more than half are narcotics related offences, Vasantha Perera, Secretary of the Justice Ministry, told the parliamentary body.
Repeat offenders and a small portion of those unable to pay fines also languish in the jails, Prison officials said.
“Those coming back to jails repeatedly after being granted General Amnesty is a perineal issue,” Commissioner of Prisons Chandra Ekanayake told the committee.
Shortage of staff was also highlighted during the meeting. The Prisons Department told COPA that 1663 posts are lying vacant. The Commissioner General of Prisons Upuldeniya informed the committee that nine new ‘Rehabilitation Centers’ are being used to reform prisoners, in particular those convicted with drugs related crimes.
COPA expressed its disappointment in the delay of formulating a new Act in accordance with international standards to replace the existing Act establishing the Prisons Department, in spite of continuous recommendations.
The chairman of the committee instructed to provide a report with a specific time frame on completing the action on the recommendations before July 10 this year.
Prisoners' welfare activists say the government is yet to act upon an action plan devised by the Prisons Department two years ago to avoid overcrowding and improving standards within the prisons.