SIERRA LEONE: Salesian missionaries provide food and medical care to prisoners after revolt and fear of coronavirus
(MissionNewswire) Prisons in Sierra Leone face overcrowding as well as lack vital sanitation and health care. Inmates often die from overcrowding, illness and violence. All too often, minors are detained for petty crimes and end up falling prey to prison violence, giving them little hope for the future upon their release. The Pademba Road Prison, the country’s largest detention facility, was designed for 324 detainees but can at times have up to 2,000 inmates. Overcrowding and a lack of clean water and proper hygiene, in addition to a lack of medical care, contribute to the persistent spread of disease and illness among the inmates which have led to deaths.
The Salesians are the only institution that works with detainees. Recently, fear of COVID-19 led to a riot that ended in unrest, fires and deaths among the detainees. On April 29, 237 prisoners were scheduled for release for minor offenses. A few days before that, however, the first case of COVID-19 inside the prison had been confirmed and visits prohibited. Prisoners were also forbidden to leave the cells as a preventive measure, but they interpreted it as another humiliation.
Pademba Road Prison experienced a bloody revolt that day. In the morning several inmates reached the internal clinic and set fire to it. They then circumvented the guards, opened all sections and burned the kitchen, pharmacy, document registry and all the workshops. Material damage, fires, many injuries and deaths were the toll of the revolt.
“There was some damage to the chapel and the Don Bosco room where 225 inmates receive an extra meal every week. The computer room and a library room were also destroyed,” said Father Jorge Crisafulli, director of Don Bosco Fambul, which oversees the Salesian work at the prison.
Some of the inmates who are beneficiaries of Salesian initiatives at the prison helped the guards climb the walls to save their lives. The police and army opened fire indiscriminately. The revolt was suppressed within four hours and the prisoners locked up in their cells. For three days, they received no food or water and were tortured to locate the fomenters. Some, without medical treatment, died in the following days.
The Salesian team working in the prison managed to enter to assess the damage and the situation of the prisoners the next day. The Salesians committed to start feeding all the prisoners, currently 1,421, and to provide medical visits.
Coronavirus has also spread in prison, infecting 19 people to date. Fifteen of them have already recovered and four are still confined. Fr. Crisafulli said, “We brought beds and rehabilitated an area to isolate it as a hospital.”
The Salesians give each prisoner a bag containing a paste called gari, powdered milk, vegetables, fruit, sugar and water. Fr. Crisafulli added, “Gradually the prison officials let inmates out of the cells and they also bought buckets of water for cleaning.”
ANS Photo (usage permissions and guidelines must be requested from ANS)
Salesian Missions – Sierra Leone