President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on June 1 had stated during a discussion with the Prison officials at the Presidential Secretariat that the prison system will be entirely overhauled by resolving existing shortcomings of the Prisons Department. He had emphasized that crimes operated by underworld kingpins and drug mafia from prisons must be put to an end without delay.
Citing the use of mobile phones by the prisoners, especially the high profile criminals, he had advised the prison officials that this should be completely eradicated. He informed the prison officials that the prisons restructuring process will be implemented through a committee comprising Secretary Defence, the Army Commander and the Inspector General of Police.
Meanwhile Attorney General Dappula de Livera said on Friday at the Welikada prison that the prisons in Sri Lanka had become play grounds and training colleges for criminals. During the first inspection tour by a Sri Lankan Attorney General to a prison he said most of the prison officials were hand in glove with the criminals in prisons in committing crimes. Prisons are production centres to create new breed of criminals who would commit next level of crimes, he had added and warned that severe legal action would be taken against any official who would connive or assist in these crimes.
On the same day during addressing a workshop organised for Prison superintendents in Colombo Defence Secretary Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunarathne also warned the prison officials to make sure that no illegal activities are allowed within prisons and said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had commenced investigations against several corrupt prison officials. “There could be honest officials among you, but there are more corrupt officers. That is a well known fact and you cannot deny it” he stated. He also said that the drug mafia and underworld activities were all being run from within Prisons.
Is there anything new in these facts which these three gentlemen have told to the face of the prison officials? These are known to the people of this country for decades as media had carried so many stories about criminals carrying out drug business and murders of opponents from within prisons. Yet, the significance of these statements is that all these three men are empowered to eradicate this menace and their warnings might instill a hope in the minds of the people.
Using mobile phones by prisoners, criminals as well as well-to-do people including politicians, is a fact as much as a man on the street uses one. Days ago media revealed that a prisoner was using a refrigerator and a television set in his “cell” in Negombo prison. How can these items creep into a prison cell without the knowledge of the prison officials? It is said that these items have been taken into the prisons for the common use of prisoners and then “some” unscrupulous officials have given them to particular prisoners to use exclusively. Is it legal? Yet, how can it be a secret? Why are the honest officials, if any, inform this to relevant authorities and prevent such irregularities? Without the entire system being rotten, this is impossible.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena also lamented about the drug peddling carried out from within the Prisons last year and his remedy was to end the 42-year-old moratorium on death penalty in the country at least for drug related offenders. He who vowed to hang at least one criminal involved in drug related offences during his tenure, had even signed the death warrants on four drug offenders in June last year. But implementation of them were suspended by the Supreme Court following several petitions filed against it. In the recent past we witnessed how powerful people made mockery of the law by suddenly “falling ill” and being admitted to the prison hospital or the Merchants’ Ward at the Colombo National Hospital when they were remanded or given a prison sentence. It showed that the entire system is rotten to the core.
Therefore, cleansing the prison system is paramount despite it being too early to predict about the outcomes of the government’s seeming effort. On the other hand the efforts might create a false belief that once the government cleanse the prisons of criminal activities the underworld would disappear. The still active criminals in prison are only an arm of the underworld in the country which might have stretched its tentacles into various sectors including politics. One would recall that the yesteryear gangsters such as Gonawala Sunil, Sotthi Upali, Chinthaka Amarasinghe, Dhammika Amarasinghe, Kalu Ajith, Kaduwela Wasantha, Beddegane Sanjeewa, Moratu Saman, Nawala Nihal, Vambotta, Olcott, Wele Suda and Makandure Madush were said to have some sort of political affiliations. Hence, it would be difficult for any government to eradicate the underworld, but it is a must.