The Ombudsman Commission, responsible for safeguarding the rights and well-being of citizens, has taken proactive measures to address the pressing issues of overcrowding and human rights violations at the Buimo Correctional Facility. The Commission’s visit to the facility was following a news article published on 14 August 2023 on the alarming situation.
The Commission is empowered by Section 219(1)(c) of the Constitution to conduct investigations on its own initiative or by complaint into investigate alleged or suspected discriminatory practices. This initiative aims to hold government bodies accountable for the well-being of inmates and to ensure their basic needs are met while in confinement.
Chief Ombudsman Richard Pagen spoke on the role of the Commission in safeguarding the rights of individuals within the justice system. He stated, “Inmates are under the care and responsibility of the government, having surrendered their rights to it. As representatives of human rights within the government, we are dedicated to ensuring that inmates are treated fairly and provided with the necessary services for rehabilitation.”
The visit revealed that inmate overcrowding was the issue within the Buimo Correctional Facility. Despite its capacity to hold 600 inmates, the facility currently accommodates 1005 individuals as of 18 August 2023, with numbers continuing to increase. An abundance of remandees, many of whom have been held for extended periods due to court delays is contributing factors to this overcrowding.
Lack of rehabilitation programs and training opportunities for inmates due to funding constraints were also identified as issues faced at the facility. Chief Ombudsman Pagen highlighted the success of the Commission’s involvement in the Kerevat Correctional Facility, where financial support by the responsible authority resulted in inmates engaging in constructive projects and skill-building activities. This suggested approach could also be applicable to Buimo and other facilities to address overcrowding and promote rehabilitation.
Chief Ombudsman Pagen underlined the role of the Commission in educating inmates about their constitutional rights. He emphasized that even when rights are surrendered upon conviction, court decisions should still be made in consideration of those rights.
Chief Ombudsman Pagen discovered during his interaction with the inmates that two remandees at Buimo Correctional Facility had not seen their cases brought before the courts for a period of seven years. This extended delay contradicts the legal requirement that cases be presented within 90 days or three months of arrest. Such a breach not only infringes on the basic rights of these inmates but also highlights the urgency of reform within the justice system.
Chief Ombudsman Pagen expressed deep concern about the prolonged delays in these cases and emphasized the imperative for law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to uphold prompt proceedings. He stated, “Justice delayed is justice denied. It is our responsibility to ensure that the rights of all individuals, including those within the correctional system, are respected”.
Chief Ombudsman Pagen called for swift action from relevant authorities to ensure that inmates receive their rightful court hearings and that the correctional system adheres to principles of justice and rehabilitation.
The visit reflects the Ombudsman Commission’s ongoing commitment to help support the correctional system and uphold inmates’ rights. Chief Ombudsman Pagen reiterated the Commission’s determination to collaborate closely with government bodies such as the District and Provincial Administrators, and correctional facility administrators to bring about meaningful change.
Commission Complaint Forms were distributed to inmates to ensure their issues were captured for further investigation. The Commission will also look into establishing direct communication channels with relevant authorities, urging timely case hearings and decision-making.
The visit to Buimo Correctional Facility not only highlighted the pressing issues of overcrowding and inadequate rehabilitation but also accentuated the need for collaboration between the Ombudsman Commission and government bodies. Chief Ombudsman Pagen called upon local and provincial governments to allocate funds for correctional facility improvements, emphasizing the crucial role they play in addressing these challenges.