Will government overhaul the prison services? 

Points to Ponder

By Lex

A First Point: Some persons, who allegedly had committed some crimes, were on remand and kept in one of our prisons. Those persons created a mutiny in the prison and managed to escape from custody. Obviously, some of them had the firm intention not to stand trial for the crimes committed, as they had made arrangements to leave the country. At least, this is what we have been told. The police authorities acted with due diligence and the freedom that most of those persons enjoyed was short lived. They were back in custody again and now they will have to be judged for the offence of escaping legal custody. As of writing, two of those who escaped from custody have not yet been captured. The State put in a lot of resources to get those people back where they belong, all Mauritians have to go through a period of stress until all the detainees are caught and the policemen who are thus kept busy cannot be deployed to other duties that demand urgent attention.

But my question is, should persons in remand be kept in the prisons as we know them, together with convicted and sentenced prisoners? This is a matter that has been raised and debated since long by legal practitioners and by society at large.

Let us find out what happens before an accused person is judged for a criminal offence. A person is alleged to have committed an offence, therefore the victim reports the case to the police. For enquiry purposes, the person is brought to the police station and if there is enough evidence, he is arrested. If the offence is not all that serious, the person is taken to Court and released on bail, waiting for him to be tried and sentenced. If the offence is serious, the person is kept in custody, but he is taken to Court every now and then. He can move the Court that he be released on bail and if the Court accepts his motion, it fixes the conditions of bail and the person is temporarily at large, until he is judged for the offence and either acquitted or convicted depending on the evidence.

However, when the Court decides that the person should be kept in custody until he is judged, he is sent in custody, awaiting for him to be judged, when he might be found guilty and sentenced or contrariwise, acquitted.

This is where the problem arises. From the time that the person is arrested to the time that he is judged, he is supposed to be in the custody of the police, and such was the situation right up to around 1968, when there were some riots and the police authorities were submerged with cases and with persons who had been arrested. Therefore the device of sending the persons on remand to prison was resorted to and the system has been made a permanent feature in our criminal system. A person not yet judged must be in the custody of the police and not in the custody of the prison officers, who have their own specific duties.

It is not the duty of the prison authorities to look after persons on remand as I say, and according to me, they should refuse to receive people on remand when they have a duty to receive persons who have been convicted and sentenced by a court of law. They should have the guts to tell the police authorities that, as from a particular date, they will not receive persons on remand. And the Magistrate should not accept the motion of Police Prosecutors that accused persons on remand be sent to the prison. It is very easy for the police to say that the Magistrate has remanded the accused to the prison. The police must take their own responsibility. Of course the prison authorities cannot tell the police that they will adopt this policy in the coming days or weeks;, the police must be given time to make their own arrangements, which might take months, if not a year or two. But the decision must be taken now; the implementation will take the time it will take.

The benefits will be numerous if the scheme is adopted. Persons in custody will not be forced to mix with hardened criminals and thus they will not get to know them and their method of proceeding in their criminal behaviour and activities.

The number of persons in prison will go down dramatically and I am told that the question of overcrowding will then be something of the past. The prison officers will devote all their time to keep watch over the convicted prisoners, which is their duty after all.

It is the duty of the police officers to look after the persons on remand but the police have left that part of their duty to the prison officers, and therefore so much less work for them. This leads to a very serious problem in the manner in which the police do their job. An officer who is conducting an enquiry gets the person arrested and the person is remanded to prison. The enquiring officer will then take all his time to complete the enquiry, the more so as the person is no longer in the custody of the police. If the person is under the responsibility of the police, the enquiring officer will be duty bound to complete the enquiry within a reasonable time.

I would suggest that the law must be amended to the effect that an enquiry must be completed within a set time and if there are some real difficulties to complete the enquiry, the officer should go to court and move for further time and he cannot do this more than twice. After this, the person has to be released, maybe on bail, but not kept in custody.

Cases will then be investigated with diligence and everybody will be satisfied.

Government can construct one or two remand centres, which will be manned by police officers and only people on remand will be kept there. There will be no need for the persons in custody to be taken to Courts for government must make the necessary arrangement for electronic appearance. If the police authority itself cannot monitor the time it takes for an enquiry to be completed, then some organisation must be set up to monitor the situation.

Those who say that the prison services are short of manpower do not know what they are talking about. The other day I listened to the Prime Minister when he was answering questions in the National Assembly. From his answers, I gathered that there is an excess of officers at our prisons and those who are retiring should not be replaced for quite some time. So I wonder what all those officers are doing, maybe quite a number of them are not doing anything and others are helping them in that. Seriously, it seems that a team from outside must look at how and why the administration is not doing its job correctly and suggest corrective measures.

I am with the people who think that the Prisons Department is not doing its job properly. A person who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment has been so sentenced as a punishment for an offence that he has committed. This should be the mission of the prison service. All civil rights of the prisoner should be suspended for the time that he stays in prison, and this makes sense.

Prisoners get their food at regular hours and a fully balanced diet, something they cannot even think of at home. They get fresh milk, fresh vegetable and fresh fruits, something most honest people cannot afford. According to me, prisoners must be made to work hard; they must be paid for the work that they do, but they should be paid far less than what ordinary people are paid. With the money they will earn, they can buy the food that would be available. If they do not work, they cannot have any food. And part of the money they will earn will go towards rent of the space they occupy in the prison and for other facilities.

We do not want to feed and lodge these persons who have committed crimes at the expense of the State. The State can use the money that it now uses for the benefit of the prisoners to help the poor and deserving elements of our society.

And government should bring in legislation to force those who have committed offences which have caused prejudice and loss to their victims to make good whatever it takes to compensate them. As the law stands, a victim of a crime has to start a civil case claiming compensation for damages as a result of a crime. The Attorney General should find ways and means to attach the question of damages with the criminal case, and let the criminal pay though it will take a lifetime.

And what is this stupidity of human rights of prisoners? Where were all those persons who speak of such rights when the human rights of the victims were being violated? It seems that they are not concerned with the victims but rather with the criminals and their alleged rights, which rights should not exist, for so long as the criminals are in prison, it is understood.

I would agree that prisoners who behave properly in prison, who perform their tasks to the satisfaction of the authorities and who do not represent a danger to others may be given a remission on their sentence. But the others must be treated like the criminals they are. The prisons are overcrowded because the prisoners feel that they are kept in a three-star hotel. Continue treating them so and one of these days, you will see what problems the prisoners will give to the authorities.

And is it not time for the foreign Commissioner of Prisons to be replaced by a Mauritian? Under his stewardship, the standard of service has gone down, I am not the only one to say it, ask those who know. Is it true that another foreigner has been recruited to supposedly train Mauritians but who, it would appear, have to learn the trade from the Mauritians themselves? 

Whatever happened to Jocelyn Grégoire? 

A Second Point: Ever since the last general election, I have been patiently waiting for Jocelyn Grégoire, the politician, to put in an appearance in Mauritius. I say politician advisedly, because he did take an active political role during the election.

Mr Grégoire started by saying that he would not give any instructions to his followers as to which party they should vote for. At the same time, he kept on repeating that his people, that is the Creole element of our population would decide on the issue of the general election. He presented himself as the stalwart of his community and he was, or rather he is, a Roman Catholic priest very much active within the Roman Catholic clergy. I am sure that all the Roman Catholic priests are in full agreement with the stand that Jocelyn Grégoire the politician has taken because it helps in the survival of the Church itself. We know that most of the Creoles are the fans or rather the followers of Jocelyn Grégoire, and the Roman Catholic Church knows it as well.

At the last moment, Jocelyn Grégoire told his followers that they should vote with their heart and everybody understood it that they should vote for the heart, the symbol of the MMM. And most of them paid heed to what was the wish of their leader. We understood that most of the Creoles had two leaders, namely Paul Bérenger and Jocelyn Grégoire.

I find it surprising that the priest did not say it openly and clearly and frankly that he wants his followers to vote for the MMM and that he was a follower of Paul Bérenger. I was expecting a priest to be a little more open and frank. Unfortunately, this one has not been so he acted like a true politician.

The move of Jocelyn Grégoire to bring the Creole electorate to the MMM and Paul Bérenger has been the main cause of getting the Hindus together, as well as a good number of the Muslim electorate. And the result has been that Constituencies nos. 5, 6, 7, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 have returned three members each of the Labour-MSM-PMSD alliance. This alliance must always pray that for any election, there will be a Jocelyn Grégoire who will act as its agent under cover, together with those newspapers that claim to have independent journalists within their groups. Now that Jocelyn Grégoire has brought the Creoles to a dead end, what solution is he proposing to get them out of the mess in which he has left them?

I am thinking of the benefits that the Creoles have derived right from the fifties to the present time from the Labour Party and its allies in government. Just think of all those houses in the various cités which were constructed by the Labour Party and its allies in government. In most of those houses, throughout the country, the inhabitants are the Creoles.

So we are expecting Jocelyn Grégoire to be in Mauritius to lead his followers, because without him, they feel lost. I am waiting for his explanations regarding the political choices his flock made at the last general election and whether he considers they were shepherded to the right pasture. I do not think so. As they say, “chacun son métier, les vaches seront bien gardées.” Isn’t it Jocelyn Grégoire? Do you agree? 

Free transport for the elderly 

A Third Point: Should government continue paying to the bus companies for the right of the over 60s to travel without those over sixties paying for their tickets? And this applies whether those persons travel or not. These passengers are not satisfied with the service provided by the bus companies, in that many of them are not taken on board at the bus-stops, and even if they are taken on board, they are made to feel unwelcome.

What should be done in the circumstances? The remedy is simple. Divide the sum that is voted for the internal travel by bus of the over sixties by the number of persons entitled and add the relevant sum to the monthly pension that is paid to the over sixties. Those who feel like travelling will pay like any other passenger and they will not be and feel discriminated against. I am sure that the over 60s will be satisfied.

* Published in print edition on 9 July 2010

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