BANJUL: Almost 100 prisoners including rapists and robbers have been freed from Gambian jails as the new government struggles to reform an overcrowded system that long relied on strict mandatory sentencing.
Even first-time offenders were given sentences without parole under the former regime of Yahya Jammeh, and the new government has vowed to overhaul unsanitary penitentiaries they say are unfit for purpose. A government source told AFP Friday that new President Adama Barrow had pardoned scores of prisoners from three different jails, some convicted of serious violent offences.
"The Prison high command Thursday released 98 prisoners who were held at Mile Two, Old Jeshwang and Janjanbureh Prisons. They were discharged on the directive of President Adama Barrow," the source said. Among them were rapists, robbers, burglars and people convicted for firearms offences, the source added, and 16 were foreign nationals from Senegal, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the source added.
The pardons come two weeks after Barrow pardoned 174 other prisoners, and follows a vow by his Interior Minister Mai Fatty to build facilities in line with international norms after shocking footage emerged of prisoners kept in dark and bare concrete cells.
A prison officer at the country's most notorious jail, Mile Two, said Barrow may also have been forced to act after the interior ministry took stock of numbers at the facility. "I believe the present government wants to tackle the problem of overcrowding in the prisons," the source at Mile Two told AFP. After seeing fellow prisoners released, those left behind protested, the source added. "They felt they should be granted amnesty so that they can have a fresh start in life."
The same source confirmed Friday that the former head of The Gambia's prisons under Jammeh was being investigated in connection with the disappearance of a former head of Gambian intelligence who was accused of plotting a coup. "(David Colley) is being investigated in connection with the disappearance of an ex-Director General of NIA, Daba Marenah, and senior military men who went missing in 2006 after President Yahya Jammeh accused them of trying to overthrow his government," the source said. Colley had run the penitentiary system nearly non-stop since 1997 under Jammeh, the longtime leader of the tiny west African state who was forced out of power in January after losing an election.