The National People’s Power Movement and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) announced that they would propose the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to prepare along with the involvement of the Election Commission, the Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Prisons, a systemic programme to ensure the prisoners’ right to exercise their franchise.
JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa said that the Movement’s manifesto had outlined proposals to transform prisons from places of punishment to educational and vocational training institutions, for prisoners showing good behaviour to be placed in open air prisons, for a parole system to be put in place, for the Community Based Corrections Act, No. 46 of 1999, to be amended to allow for the community-based correction of small groups of minor offenders and for counselling and educational programmes to be put in place to aid them, for prisons to be provided with space and facilities in accordance with international standards, and for a programme to be put in place for prisoners to be classified based on their intellectual levels.
He said thus yesterday (24) while representing the Movement’s Presidential candidate and JVP Leader, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka’s stance on prisoners rights, at a forum organised by the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners titled ‘Prisoners Summit – Humanity’ held in Colombo. The Committee put forward five demands to the Presidential candidates who wish to garner the approximately 500,000 votes of prisoners and their families at next month’s Presidential Election, which are namely, the repeal of the death penalty from legislation, the halting of acts of the killing of prisoners and torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, making a considerable budgetary allocation for the subject of prison reforms, putting in place a proper rehabilitation programme based on the social sciences, and addressing laws delays. On laws delays, Dr. Jayatissa further explained that the majority of prisoners were those who had not been convicted and sentenced and those in remand custody. Explaining that they were completely opposed to the implementation of the irreversible death penalty, which could give rise to miscarriages of justice, Dr. Jayatissa also challenged President Maithripala Sirisena to show one country that had managed to reduce its crime rate by implementing the capital punishment and challenged all other Presidential candidates to directly reveal their position on the matter.
He also pointed out instances where the inability to pay the bail or fine resulted in imprisonment and issues faced by pregnant women and mothers who are prisoners, and their children.
Meanwhile, Committee General Secretary, Sudesh Nandimal Silva, also addressing the gathering, observed that though the Prisons Ordinance contained provisions to consider the release of convicts based the review of their behaviour and conduct, such review did not take place as prescribed. Citing the recent consideration of a Presidential pardon for Royal Park murder convict Shramantha Jude Anthony Jayamaha, he observed that there was a double standard applied when granting Presidential pardons. He also claimed that if a prisoner who lacks a high profile is taken ill in the night, he is made to wait till the morning to be taken to the hospital.
Also speaking on the same occasion, Committee Chairman, Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera, citing an incident where a 75-year-old mother was imprisoned over a case of heroin possession involving her daughter, noted that the process of granting pardons should be fair. He pointed out that the sheer lengthy delay involved in a suspect or accused being convicted and sentenced, resulted in them being victimized twice. He reiterated that prisons should be correctional facilities which provide human rights afforded to prisoners such as the right to marriage and family.