Open prisons and electronic tagging part of plans to overhaul jail

Inmates at Maafushi Island Prison are to be categorised into four groups according to security risk, with the least dangerous criminals to be tagged and released on work and study programmes.

“This is a huge change to the prison system,” Naseer told Haveeru adding that the reforms will reduce state expenditure on the rehabilitation system.

Older inmates or inmates nearing the end of the sentence will be housed in an open jail on a separate island, Home Minister Umar Naseer told local news agency Haveeru today.

Inmates in category two will be allowed to work on the industrial Thilafushi Island, and the most dangerous criminals or category one criminals will continue to serve their sentences behind bars in Maafushi prison.

“This will be advantageous to the state budget. Secondly, it will allow criminals to undergo rehabilitation and integrate back into society. With this, when inmates are released from jail, they will have undergone one of the programs,” the Home Minister told Haveeru.

The inmates who are to be released on the work and study programme will have an electronic tag fixed to their legs. In addition to undergoing a security screening, they will also have to be nearing the end of their sentence.

“They will have to do one or the other [work or study]. If they are working, we have to know where they are going. We also have to know the exact route they are taking. Through the tag, we can track which streets they are walking on,” he said.

The home minister said the tags have been tested during his trip to Singapore earlier this week. An expert team is to visit the Maldives to demonstrate how the tags work to government offices, he said.

The open jail is to be established on an uninhabited island. The government will provide modest shelter, run a mosque, and establish an administrative office and a security post. The inmates will cook for themselves and be self- sufficient, but will not be allowed to leave the island, Naseer said.

“These are people who pose no harm to society. And elderly inmates who are weak,” he said.

Plans are underway to designate an island for the open jail. The Home Ministry is currently working on a policy paper on the matter to be submitted to the social council at the President’s Office.

Category two criminals will be provided employment with the Road Development Corporation and will be put to work and housed on Thilafushi.

The Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) and the corporation have already signed an agreement to transfer jobs from expatriate workers to inmates.

“The Road Development Corporation’s labour quarters will be changed into prison labour quarters. That means there will be a fence around the quarters,” he said.

Inmates will be released during the day for work and brought back to the labor quarters at night. The renovation is expected to cost MVR6 million (US$ 389,105) and will be funded through the state budget.

Approximately 50 inmates are already employed on Thilafushi, he said.

The reforms will reduce the prison population from 1000 inmates to 300 or 400 inmates, the home minister said.

Naseer has overseen a series of radical changes including a decision to implement the death penalty.

New regulations formulated in April have ended a sixty-year moratorium on the practice. The Maldives Correctional Services is now preparing facilities to implement the death sentence through legal injection.


Police officer caught smuggling drugs into Male’ custodial jail

A police officer has been arrested on Wednesday night while attempting to smuggle drugs into Malé custodial detention center.

Police have confirmed that the officer has been taken into custody, but declined to reveal further details.

According to newspaper Haveeru, the suspect in custody is a police lance corporal and he was arrested from the detention center with drugs in his possession.

In March, a police officer was arrested in connection to the largest drug haul from a police operation in the country’s history.

The police seized 24 kg of heroin with a street value of MVR36 million (US$2.2 million) and arrested four Maldivians, three Bangladeshis and 11 Pakistanis.

The heroin had been offloaded on to a local dhoni from an Iranian vessel “Hormooz” off the coast of Alif Alif Mathiveri Island and were seized on a dinghy in the Hulhumalé harbor.

The government has previously alleged security officials at prisons and remand centers are responsible for smuggling drugs to inmates.

In January, police seized mobile phones and drugs from the main prison in Maafushi island while a 20-year-old and a minor were arrested in February for attempting to smuggle drugs into the jail.

Home Minister Umar Naseer has said his main focus during his five-year term will be “the fight against drugs.” He pledged to seal all ports through which drugs enter the country and apprehend all major wholesale drug dealers.

However, the rate of drugs confiscation at ports have been very low. In 2013, the Maldives Customs Service only seized 6.98 kg of heroin and 10.73 kg of hashish oil, and 4.12 kg of heroin along and 8.39 kg of hashish oil in 2012.

Meanwhile, the police dealt with 38 cases of buying and selling of drugs and 130 cases of trafficking drugs, 2,139 drug use cases and 833 possession cases in 2013.

There are 7,496 drug users aged between 15 and 64 years in the Maldives, the Natioal Drug Use Survey of 2011 – 2012 has found. Over 70 percent of the users are under 24 years of age.


Police Commissioner urges all officers to be patient with inmates

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed has called on police officers to treat inmates held in Dhoonidhoo in accordance with the law, warning that he will not hesitate to take action against those doing otherwise.

The commissioner noted that inmates in Dhoonidhoo detention centre face the curtailment of some of the basic rights – such as freedom of movement – and that police officers should maintain patience when faced with unsettled detainees.

Waheed also stated that police officers were now being trained to serve inmates in accordance with local and international human rights laws, urging officers to put this training into practice.

He added that he would not accept any police officer committing a crime, noting that sometimes officers have been involved in criminal activities which give a bad name to the whole institution.

On March 16, 2014, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) – in their 2013 annual report – stated that incidents of torture in detention centres were increasing in the Maldives.

Among the issues noted during the commission’s visits, and from complaints received, were detainees being held in cuffs for extended periods, detainees not being provided adequate hygiene and sleeping materials, overcrowded cells, rotten food, and the mistreatment of detainees during transfer.

The report also listed a failure to keep proper records of detainees’ medical, search, and solitary confinement details, as well as a failure to inform the HRCM of arrests.

According to the commission’s report, of a total of 596 recommendations regarding state detention facilities made – including prisons, detention centres, and homes for people with special needs – only 20 percent have been fully implemented.

The rising incidence of torture was reflected in the number of cases submitted, and a total of 72 cases of degrading treatment and torture were submitted within the year.

In December 2013, the parliament passed the Anti-torture Act [Dhivehi] which declares freedom from torture as a fundamental right, ensures respect for human rights of criminal suspects, and prohibits torture in state custody, detention in undisclosed locations, and solitary confinement.

According to the bill, any confession gained through the use of torture should be deemed invalid by the courts.

On June 2, 2013, the man found to have murdered parliament member and prominent religious scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali, Hussain Humam, retracted his confession to the crime, claiming it had been obtained by police through coercive during his detention.

Last month, Ahmed Murrath – sentenced to death for murder –  was also reported to have appealed his case at the High Court telling  judges that he had been refused access to a doctor during pretrial detention.


Assaulted inmate flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment

Officials from the Home Ministry have confirmed to local media that Ibrahim Azar – critically injured during a jail fight in Maafushi prison last month – has been sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

According to a report on the incident shared by the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) with parliament’s government oversight committee earlier this month, Azar had requested to be transferred from his cell more than an hour before the assault.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Azar was attacked by his cell mates after calling prison officers when a fight broke out between two of his cell mates on February 24.

“Azar was kept in A-B/Unit-3 of Maafushi Prison with two other inmates, and that day the two inmates had an issue and started fighting,’’ the source said.

“Azar called the prison officers and the prison officers talked to the two that were fighting and resolved the issue – but as soon as the prison officer left they started fighting again.’’

He added that Azar called the prison officers once more, though the fighting had stopped by the time officers arrived and so the guards left the cell again.

“It repeated three times, and after the fourth time prison officers were called Azar was attacked by his two cell mates,’’ the source said.

The source alleged that Azar’s cell mates attacked him using a razor blade. He received multiple wounds to his body, and his head was allegedly banged against the cell wall or the metal fence.

However, officials from the MCS had denied that any “sharp objects” were used in the assault when asked by MPs at the oversight committee meeting.

The source meanwhile said that the hospitalised inmate was “very skinny” and “very weak.”

“After the attack the prison officers had to wrap him inside a mat to carry him outside due to bleeding, his head was smashed,” he said.

“The inmates have to shake the metal fences to alert the prison officers if anything is happening otherwise they will pretend they did not hear,’’ he said.

“If one cell starts shaking the fences all the other cells will start shaking the metal fence.’’

MCS report

According to the one-page MCS report, on February 24, Prison Corporal Mohamed Mujthaba, the ranking duty officer at the time of the incident, was informed by guards of unrest in cell number 12 of unit three, wing one, at about 5:25pm.

Mujthaba questioned the prisoners and was asked by two of the three inmates in cell 12 – Ali Ashwan of Ma. Oasis Villa and Azar – to be transferred to a different cell.

“However, when [the inmates] were asked to explain the reason for wanting to change cells, they refused to do so until they were taken out of the cell,” the report revealed.

At about 6:00pm, the report stated, instructions were given to transfer the inmates, but the third inmate in cell 12 – Ahmed Liushan, also from Ma. Oasis Villa – obstructed prison guards who attempted to take the other inmates out of the cell.

At about 6:50pm, Mujthaba and Emergency Support Group officers made their way to the cell upon hearing a commotion from the unit, finding the “severely beaten” Azar inside.

Negligence in the prison was also reported to have led to violence in December 2010 after inmates attempted to inform prison officers of the illness of a cell-bound inmate.

After officers failed to respond to pleas from inmates, prisoners reportedly shook the bars to gain the attention of officers – who were subsequently alleged to have beaten the inmates causing the disturbance.

“Nobody cares for the inmates, only some politicians speak about it, but only for political purposes and not with the intention of correcting anything,” said a source close to the incident at the time.


Fifty inmates selected to begin work on Thilafushi road construction in a week

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Hanim has stated that fifty of the “best disciplined” inmates have now been chosen to take part in the ministry’s government’s labour programme.

The first project for which the inmates have been selected is the construction of roads in industrial island Thilafushi.

The government has still not revealed the amount of pay inmates will be entitled to after completing the work, although Hanim echoed Home Minister Umar Naseer’s statements that half of each inmate’s pay will be taken for the development of the prison system, while the other half can be saved or sent to the inmates’ families.

Hanim revealed that prison guards will be overseeing the work of the prisoners, as well as accompanying them on the transfer trips to and from Thilafushi to Maafushi, where the prison is located.

“We have selected the best of the inmates for this work. This is a very special initiative taken by the Home Ministry to contribute to finding a solution to many problems faced by the nation, including the need to employ foreign labourers,” Hanim is quoted as saying to local media.

“When we make inmates do work that would otherwise be done by immigrants, it also has huge benefits to our economy. Additionally, this gives the opportunity for inmates to financially assist those who have to take care of them,” he said.

Minivan News was unable to contact Deputy Minister Mohamed Hanim for comments.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer initially announced the project in late December 2013.

“There is no country in the world where inmates are not made to work. This administration’s aim is to make inmates in our jails work in various government projects. To bring them out of their current situation,” Naseer had said then, at an event announcing the government’s policies on youth development.

While the labour program is voluntary, detainees will be selected based on their disciplinary records during the time in detention and their suitability for the work to be conducted.

Naseer predicted that by the end of 2014, 400 out of 730 inmates will be working on some project, thereby preparing them for reintegration into society.

In order to prepare detainees for such work, the ministry further plans to introduce vocational training programs in Maafushi Island prison in the near future. The program will desensitise them to work environments and hone a number of skills, he said.

Umar Naseer was not responding to calls at the time of press.


HRCM calls on authorities to ensure inmates are able to vote

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has issued a statement calling on authorities to ensure that inmates detained at state penitentiaries and police custody are able to vote during the presidential election.

The HRCM stated that the police, human rights and Gender Ministry as well as the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation (DPRS) should complete the things they have to, in order to make sure all persons detained in their facilities are able to vote.

The commission said it had sent a letter to the Supreme Court to discuss the verdict regarding the issue.

On September 5, a source within the Maafushi Prison told Minivan News that more than 200 inmates were not registered to vote because they do not have national identity cards. The source claimed that inmates have to pay the prison department to renew their ID cards but that there are inmates in the cells who have no way to get money.

He said that inmates have contacted politicians and been told it is  the responsibility of the Home Ministry to make ID cards for all the inmates who do not have them.

The source also claimed that inmates have complained about both the Prison Department and the Home Ministry stealing the money the government had given them to get ID cards for inmates.


Maafushi Prison inmates petition president over poor conditions

Inmates in Maafushi prison have petitioned President Dr Mohamed Waheed over poor conditions in the prison.

In the petition, the inmates stated that there were people in the prison sentenced to be incarcerated for more than 100 years, calling for the chance to reintegrate into society.

According to the petition, the inmates alleged they were being deprived from basic human rights guaranteed by the constitution, regulations made under the constitution and international treaties the Maldives had signed.

The inmates said that some of the cells were so small there was no space to kneel towards the Qibla during prayer time. They complained they had been able to perform Friday prayers for the past four years and had not been provided with healthy food and clean water.

According to the petition, the daily amount spent on food for each inmate had dropped from MVR95 (US$6.16) to just MVR35 (US$2.26).

The inmates called on Dr Waheed to take urgent measures to ensure food and clean water were provided in the cells.

‘’There are inmates who have serious medical conditions, who are advised by doctors to take medication accordingly, but the prison officers are not providing them the medical treatment as asked by the doctors,’’ the petition stated.

The inmates referred to one incident in which an inmate identified as Mohamed Ibrahim of Seenu Hithadhoo was refused medical treatment, which allegedly resulted in his appendix bursting inside his stomach while he was in the cell.

The petition also claimed that when inmates travelled to Male’ by sea, they were handcuffed to the back of the vessel with no prison officer on standby, which was against safety regulations.

The inmates also claimed that prison officers had banned inmates from marrying another inmate.

The inmates said they regretted remarks by former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel alleging that inmates were homosexual, and alleged the banning of marriages in prison was intended to force inmates into homosexuality.

The petition called on the state to allow inmates to marrying inmates of the opposite sex ,and to fix issues the Maafushi Prison.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told Minivan News that the office had not received the petition.


Inmates at Maafushi Prison ordered to trim beards to be eligible for parole, claims family member

Inmates in Maafushi Prison have been handed a notice informing them that they must have short hair and trimmed or shaved beards in order to be eligible for parole, a family member of an inmate informed Minivan News.

The source told Minivan News that the notice handed to inmates states that according to Prison Order 12, article 1.5, inmates shall not grow their hair and beard unless for “a medical purpose”, and hair must be trimmed or shaved, or they would not be eligible for parole.

The notice also stated that in a meeting held by the Parole Board on April 11, 2012, the board decided to consider hair as a disciplinary issue when selecting inmates for parole, and that inmates who insisted on long hair or growing their beards would have it recorded as a misdeed in their disciplinary record, according to the source.

The notice was made in compliance with Second Chance Program Office memo number 479/167/2012/113, Minivan News was informed.

When considering parole the board will check for record of misdeeds over the past six months.

Parole Board Chair Dr Ali Shahid Mohamed meanwhile denied that the Parole Board made such a decision.

‘’We are not mandated to determine the regulations and rules of the prison, we only see their disciplinary records and we will see what progress the inmate has made in prison,’’ Shahid said.

Shahid said he does not know what the prison regulations stated about beard and hair.

‘’We did not make any specific decision related to hair or beard in the meeting that day, we enhanced an earlier decision to consider the inmates disciplinary record when releasing inmates on parole,’’ he said.

Parole Board member from Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) Bilal did not respond to calls at time of press.

DPRS Director General Mohamed Rasheed’s mobile phone was switched off.

In November last year a group of prison guards working in Maafushi Prison filed a case at the Maafushi Court after they were ordered to shave off their beards.

Maafushi Court ruled that growing a beard for men in Islam is more than a Sunnah and almost ‘waajib’ (obligatory), and that prison officers should not be asked to shave off their beards.

In March this year the High Court invalidated the ruling saying that Maafushi Court gave no opportunity for the defendant – the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) – to say anything before the case was concluded, and that therefore the ruling was unlawful.


Inmates Creativity Fair reveals creative side of jail

“I’m improving my painting, and it’s helping me make improvements in my life. It’s now an interest.”

Adam Arif is four years into a 25-year sentence at Maafushi jail. Participating at the 2012 Inmates Creativity Fair, held in the National Art Gallery from January 12 to 14, he said the arts program has improved daily life at Maafushi, and that the fair was a good chance to see the Male‘ community.

“The art projects allow them to gain valuable skills and hold a normal routine while in prison,” said Mohamed Asif, Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS). Inmates who choose to participate in the government-sponsored program work from 9 am to 12 pm, break for lunch, and then again from 1 pm to 3 pm. “It’s like a full job,” he explained. “Otherwise they’d just be sitting behind bars.”

Organised by DPRS, the fair was hosted by inmates and DPRS staff wearing orange tee-shirts sporting the logo “Accept Me”. Paintings, jewelry, handbags, model ships, plant arrangements and even vegetables available for sale were produced by the 80 to 100 male and female participants from Maafushi and Asseyri, most of whom were not formerly artists. They receive Rf900 (US$360) per month.

But business could expand.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments from people, requesting us to open a shop because they want to buy more. We plan to launch a website to sell the prisoners’ artwork at the end of next month”, Asif said.

With most objects sold by 8:30 pm on the last evening of the fair, Asif estimated that the fair earned Rf1 million (US$64,850). However, he was careful to point out that the earnings are not a profit.

“The money goes back to the government, and is incorporated back into the budget and used to provide more tools for art projects,” he said. “The problem is, actually, we want a revolving fund. We’d like to sell and make a profit and then be able buy more materials and repeat the process. But at the moment, because of legislating governing financial procedures, we aren’t authorised.”

Although the inmate arts program is funded by the government, Asif believes financial autonomy would improve the program. “We are going to introduce a prison club, like the police club, so we can have our own budget to buy and sell,” he explained.

While Asif pushes for independence within the practice of prison reform, he acknowledges that significant improvements have been made in the past few years.

“There is renovation being done at Maafushi, Asseyri, and how they are going to build a new prison at Nanaykurandhoo,” he pointed out. Although the parole system is far from strong, Asif noted that the 2011 Second Chance Program had released 337 inmates since its inception in September, only 30 of whom had returned to prison, mostly from drug relapse.

Maldivian prisons currently house approximately 1000 inmates–0.3 percent of the national population. Nearly three-quarters of the prison population has been incarcerated for drug offences.

According to a 2011 report released by the United Nations Development Program, however, the prison system is poorly equipped.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” co-author and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath told Minivan News in a previous article. “There is no structure to support the prisoners who are there.”

Inmates surveyed complained about a lack of structure in prison life, listing torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false hope from politicians as key factors.

“Plus, there isn’t much to read there,” Aminath explained. 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. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

When asked which rehabilitation programs were most needed, inmates most commonly requested religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

While the Second Chance program is re-integrating prisoners into society, other steps are improving the situation behind bars.

In 2011, an education program helped over 100 prisoners prepare for their O-levels. A much-anticipated Drugs Bill was passed during Parliament’s last moments of 2011, re-structuring the court procedures for those accused of drug offenses and offering an overhaul of the rehabilitation system. Asif further anticipates that a Prisons and Parole Bill which was sent to Parliament in June 2010 will be approved by March of this year.

Speaking at the fair’s opening ceremony on January 12 President Mohamed Nasheed, himself a former inmate of Maldivian prisons, said the emerging democratic system and reviews of the Constitution have contributed to improvements in the prison system. The President added that cooperation within the community would be measurable by initiatives taken to formulate prison reforms.

Comparing current prison conditions to those of the former regime, the President further stated that existing and pending legal framework offers a second chance for criminal offenders and asserted that torture and oppression faced by prisoners in this country were a thing of the past.

A comment book at the fair revealed an array of positive public responses. Supportive comments such as “this is the best thing I’ve done in 2012 so far” and “this shows that all the prisoners need is guidance in becoming useful people in society” were interspersed with statements of support from former inmates and suggestions for an inmate’s music group, football team and body-building club.