SIERRA LEONE: Spanish Journalist Alberto López Working to Create Documentary of Pademba Road Prison in Sierra Leone
(MissionNewswire) Alberto López, a Spanish journalist working with the department of communications at the Salesian Missions office in Madrid, was able to capture images and assess conditions of the Pademba Road Prison in Sierra Leone. He made two recent visits to the prison while working alongside Salesian missionaries from Don Bosco Fambul, one of the country’s leading child-welfare organizations that has been actively providing services to young prisoners incarcerated at Pademba Road Prison.
López made the prison visits for a new documentary that will provide insight into the horrible conditions of the prison and highlight the work of Salesian missionaries from Don Bosco Fambul. A long-term partnership between the prison and Don Bosco Fambul was established to allow missionaries to provide a number of services, including the development of a youth counseling center to give youth and their families the necessary tools for rehabilitation and reintegration upon release.
According to the 2011 Human Rights Watch report, prisons in Sierra Leone face overcrowding as well as lack vital sanitation and health care. Inmates often die from overcrowding, illness and violence. 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 2011 report noted that Pademba Road Prison, the country’s largest detention facility, was designed for 324 detainees but has more than 1,800 inmates, which is still the case in 2017. Overcrowding and lack of clean water and proper hygiene, in addition to lack of medical care, contribute to the spread of persistent disease and illness among the inmates, which has led to deaths.
Food is also scarce in the prison, and the only solid meal of the day consists of cassava leaves and rice. Water distribution is inconsistent, and incarcerated men and boys sometimes do not receive the daily allocation of one-third of a liter of water. Younger, smaller members of the prison’s population suffer the most. Those with money can buy additional food and water, but most men and boys held at Pademba are too poor or do not receive visits from people who could give them money or food.
“Who could have imagined that a Sierra Leone prison did not have security cameras and that in the control area inside the courtyard, between the barracks and the prisoners, the guards after lunch would sleep with their uniform open and that tens of prisoners went naked around the courtyard, washing in buckets of water,” says López. “Prisoners sentenced to death were dressed in black with a large “C” sewn on the uniform. I could never have imagined such as thing but saw it with my own eyes.”
Because prison authorities forbid any media coverage of the appalling conditions at their facility, Lόpez was forced to visit under the guise of an international benefactor in order to avoid the scrutiny that would thwart his desire to tell the inmates’ stories. Later, on his second visit, he assisted a Salesian doctor, Father Jorge Crisafulli, who provides medical treatment and other services to 250 inmates each week.
“With a huge bag, packed with all kinds of medicines, tests and medical instruments, we went into the jail to see everything and undergo another unspeakable experience in which suffering is mixed with resignation and apathy on the part of the detainees and also with gratitude for every gesture of attention,” adds López. “I came away convinced that many of them know that they will die in the most inhumane prison in the world, despite their young age.”
Salesian missionaries provide food and water for the young inmates while also offering counseling services, medical assistance and therapy to ensure inmates are mentally fit when their prison terms have ended. The Salesian program also provides legal services to youth who have committed minor offenses or those who have been unlawfully imprisoned in Pademba. The goal is to seek their immediate release and/or referral to a remand home or to an approved school.
In addition, in collaboration with Catholic Caritas and Sierra Leone Prisons Service, Salesian missionaries launched the Legal Support Project in 2014, providing the most disadvantaged inmates critical legal representation to ensure their rights are upheld. Many of the prisoners assisted through the project do not have family outside the prison to ensure that the court and prison system acts in a fair and balanced way.
Human Rights Watch 2011 Report – Sierra Leone
UNICEF – Sierra Leone