Prisons burdened with small crimes and poor management, report finds

The Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”, according a report by the government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reform could reduce the number of youth incarcerated for minor offences, the report suggested.

The report also found that “the existing legislative framework and the current penal system does not support the human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, nor is it compatible with best practices outlined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules on Treatment of Prisoners.”

The “Prison Assessment and Proposed Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders Report“, published on September 5, was conducted by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath. The report surveyed 60 percent of the prison population as of February 2011 to assess current prison conditions and make recommendations.

It is the first report of this scope to be done in the Maldives.

Aminath said the report took five months to prepare. “It involved very consistent record-taking and visits to prisons. About part way through we realized that we needed a legal framework to make a more comprehensive report, so we met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.” The team had met with government officials throughout the project.

Aminath said timing the release of the report was difficult after the release of prisoners from Maafushi prison in July.

Key issues identified in the report were a lack of legislative framework to support rehabilitation and reintegration programs; widespread accusations of corruption and inappropriate political influence among institutions; poor prison design; and inadequate budgeting and human resources.

The report’s first recommendation for reform was to “de-criminalise the offense of drug usage” and require rehabilitation, according to the offender’s criminal record.

A second recommendation to “establish a restorative justice program to minimize offenders being incarcerated for minor offences” would regulate the currently heavy flow of Maldivian youth into the prison system.

Of prisoners in the Maldives, the majority are males under 30 years of age who are educated below O-levels. At the time of the report, 66 percent of inmates polled were in jail for drug use or possession.

“There are small time drug users of 23 years of age who are being being sentenced for 70 years in prison,” said Aminath. “When you visit other countries, the jails are divided between minimum and maximum security according to the sentence. You know that criminals in maximum security areas are really hard-core. You also find that drug trafficking is a serious offense in most countries, and traffickers do the most time in jail. But here, traffickers get 25 years while small-time users get 60 to 80 years. These are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives.”

Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

“I’m not condoning drugs,” said Aminath, “but I think we need to help.”

The report criticised Maldivian prisons for being understaffed and poorly managed.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” said Aminath. “It’s hard to even say what the capacity of these facilities is.”

After the fires in 2009, Maafushi prison in March and October 2009, Aminath said that basic living equipment like mattresses were not replaced. Maafushi and Male prisons do not have kitchens, and “there is no structure to support the prisoners who are there,” she said.

Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. But Aminath noted that it remained empty until this past year, and since then has been filled with inmates of all ages. She said individuals she asked regarding it’s changed purpose were uniformed.

Inmates surveyed said medical services were inadequate. An investigation found that Maafushi prison compensated by sending an average of ten people to Male each day for medical purposes–an excursion which opens opportunities for smuggling good into prison.

Inmates also complained about a lack of structure in prison life. The report lists claims of torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false messages of hope from politicians as examples.

Prison regulations also make it difficult for inmates to develop their own structure. Aside from the Qur’an, inmates are not allowed to have any reading material. Only Asseyri and Maafushi prisons have ‘libraries’–rooms with a few books located outside the gated complex. “It’s risky to go there because it’s not within a protected area, and there simply aren’t enough staff to organise daily library trips,” said Aminath. “Plus, there isn’t much to read there. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

Naaz and Aminath asked prisoners to describe the types of rehab programs they felt were needed. Most recommended religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

Among the report’s recommendations for reform is the development of a Mental Health act. It also encourages Parliament to pass legislation that was proposed 3 years ago, including a criminal procedure code, a penal code, an evidence act, and a parole bill.

Another suggestion is to establish a prison industry to train prisoners in vocational skills, a program that would directly support rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

Aminath said the research team is in conversation with the State Minister, and the Home Minister supports the recommendations.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said, “the Government is committed to improving the rehabilitation system, given
how large a problem drugs are for our community.”

But change won’t happen overnight, Aminath cautioned. She said all institutions “need to strengthen the legal framework and get more involved with the community to make these changes. This applies to all institutions across the board here.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the UNDP team had “‘met with government officials across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.'” It should have stated that the UNDP team had “met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses and advocate passing legislative framework bills.” The UNDP team had been in correspondence with government officials from the beginning of the project.

The previous version of the story also stated that, “Aminath noted that drug users who test positive for drugs are given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive.” It should have stated that “Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

The previous version also stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile detention center.” It should have stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. Also, individuals who Aminath asked about its current use as a standard detention center were uninformed. Minivan News apologises for any confusion.”


10 thoughts on “Prisons burdened with small crimes and poor management, report finds”

  1. Great work, Ms Johnstone. Prison reform needs to be in the media as often as possible.

  2. Good article in general, however i would like to add that a very comprehensive study of a similar nature was completed in 2003 january , with very much similar recommendations .

    the management of prisons is no rocket science , it has been documented in many prison management handbooks . especially in the amnesty international handbook on prison management

    most of what the prisoners have said are true and fixing those issues require only a political will, it is not expensive nor is it beyond the reach of the administration

    the problems is not in the facilities or resources, it is within the mind set of the people. we must accept and appreciate the notion that prisoners are human beings and work towards establishing that ethos and inculcate it in the prison administration through a set of policy and an act or parliament that ensure the rights of the prisoners

    to outline the short comings and to state the obvious that maldivian prisons do not meet the international standards is to win international favour of the undp as party to the study, fact is the prison conditions in the maldives would rank most likely at the bottom of the list

    two basic issues to be addressed are
    1. the road to prison ----
    the justice system must ensure that those who are in prison really need to be there
    2. life in prison----
    once in prison it has to be a process by which a prisoner may find a road to a better life and live a life of a human being

    as stated in the report most prisoner in prison in the maldives need not be there , they are better off given an opportunity of correction in the real world

  3. Definitely need to relook the sentencing for usage/possession and distributing/trafficking. Doing so would alleviate a lot of the overcrowding that is taking place in the limited space that the prison system has to offer. The Maldives is in dire need of reform – especially when you have potential terrorist who are convicted and released blowing shit up and injuring people who are released before they serve their sentence. Priorities... priorities!?!?!

  4. You have made many heads to roll. I think you have to keep the drum beat until politicians are willing to tackle this issue. I agree with you, we need structural changes. I am making a proposal to privatize jails in the Maldives. I am working with several European countries and seeking funds for such a project.

  5. Prisons in Maldives is mismanaged no doubt. The trouble is that Prison management and the administrative management are two different areas of work. But the Head of DPRS always managed both the areas. Even now the State Minister of Home Affairs has no educational background to run such a Dept. and the other political figure in the Dept. who is a retired MNDF official is only in charge of security of Prison. He has no authority to bring changes to the system. Government is releasing Prisoners with some kind of rehabilitation because the Penal code and other relevant bills are in pending files in majlis. It’s high time Govt. place an educated person as head of DPRS and not someone who disrespect colleagues and acts as a master of all skills and knows nothing. The mans main skill is pleasing the relevant Govt. officials with his boasting pumping wrong information to create a good image of himself. The President thinks he’s the medication for the ailments in Prisons. What a joke

  6. "Aminath noted that drug users who test positive for drugs are given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive." is this true?

    As far as I know they are charged for use and possession

  7. The judiciary and prisons system in Maldives definitely need a vagarious overhauling; remember the country is in a process of changing from a benevolent oligarchy to modern democracy. That means there will be obstacles for meaningful positive changes in all sector of government or the state.

  8. I agree with Ibrahim that privatizing prison management will be the best option for the prison conditions

    But there will be a lot to be done in the legislations but as these are two separate issues there is no reason to wait for the legislations to finish they could privatize prison management even now.

  9. Prison management since time immemorial has always been difficult especially when the prisoners are political or imprisoned unjustly.

    Nothing in a prison can be easy when there are political prisoners or them who are imprisoned unjustly.

    Solutions for managing of our prisons is very essential.

    But privatizing prison management (ppm) and “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”, !


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