Report on prison conditions and mismanagement of prison budget - September 16, 1999 - Emalus Campus

Report on prison conditions and mismanagement of prison budget - September 16, 1999


This report results from an ongoing investigation into the prisons of Vanuatu.  It covers a period from 1995 until its publication.

The report inquires into the conditions at the 4 prisons in Vanuatu (Vila Central Prison, Ex- British Prison, Santo Prison and Tanna Prison).  It also inquires into the administration of prisons, actions by the Government to remedy conditions at the prisons and the adequacy of funding of prisons in Vanuatu.  During that time covered by the report, a number of developments relating to the deteriorating and dangerous condition of prisons took place.  These are documented in the report.  These include:

    Reports by the Officer in Charge of Vila Central Prison during 1995,
    Report in October 1995 by the UN agency ESCAP,
    Engineering report prepared in July 1995
    Further engineering report commissioned by the Ombudsman
    Public Works Department report on Prisons in March 1997
    Amnesty International Report on inspection of prisons in January 1998.

In addition, the Ombudsman conducted his own inspections of the prisons.  All of these reports and investigations reveal that the physical condition of the prisons, in particular the Central Prison in Port Vila are sub standard.  In particular, the Central Prison is structurally unsound, leaks, has dangerous electrical wiring and is unhygienic.  The Amnesty International Report described conditions as “men held in conditions amounting to cruel inhuman and degrading treatment in decaying, overcrowded former colonial prison.”

It was noted by the Police Commissioner, as a result of meetings in 1995, recognized that construction of new prisons was badly needed but that it has not been a priority for Government funding and that accordingly, donor funding was unlikely to be forthcoming.

In 1996, the Ombudsman wrote to the Municipality of Port Vila to request that a notice pursuant to section 10 or the Physical Planning Act be issued in relation to the dangerous structural condition of Vila Central Prison.  No notice was issued.

The Prisons (Administration) Act provides for the establishment of a Prison Visiting Commission, appointed by the Minister.  This commission is mandated to visit the prisons at least once a year to inspect them and receive prisoners’ complaints.  No such committee was established until 1998, part way through the Ombudsman’s investigation leading to this report.

In March 1997, the Public Works Department issued a report concluding that in view of the fact that a repair of the Central Prison would cost 17.4 million vatu and a replacement would cost approximately 50 million vatu, that the prison be replaced.  It was also acknowledged that funding of a new prison and the resolution of a land dispute regarding its proposed location were difficulties that would need to be overcome.

In June 1998, the male prisoners at the Central Prison were transferred to the Ex British Prison.  Later, the female prisoners were also transferred to another location.  This transfer removed them from the dangers of the Central Prison but created new problems of overcrowding at the Ex British Prison.  This prison is also in poor condition with leaking concrete and no protection from insects.

The conditions at the Santo and Tanna prisons were also found to be unsatisfactory with problems that included leaks and unhygienic conditions.

In addition to the physical conditions at the prisons, the Ombudsman found, as a result of investigations, that food rations, the type of bedding, the level of hygiene, the need for segregation of prisoners, the lack of exercise, rehabilitation and library all resulted in conditions far below the desired standards.  The report makes repeated reference to the United Nations Principles for the Protection of all Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.   It also refers to section 5 of the Constitution which provides all persons with fundamental guarantees including right to life and security of the person.

The investigations revealed serious problems with the funding of the prisons.  Only a fraction of the moneys allocated for prisons between 1993 and 1997 were spent for their intended purpose.  The rest were spent on police requirements.  As a result, maintenance and conditions at the prisons suffered further.

·       That the Government of Vanuatu give priority to funding the construction of new prisons which meet the minimum standards required to meet the UN principles.

·       That prison services be established under an act separate from the Police Act and that the budget for prisons be completely separate from that for the Police.

·       That the Prison Visiting Committee carry out its duties as soon as the members’ appointment is legally constituted.

·       That the scale of prisoners’ rations be reviewed with the assistance of a qualified medical officer and approved by the Minister to comply with minimum UN standards.

·       That a Prison Conditions Task Force be established to make recommendations for legislative, administrative, training and technical requirements which would improve the conditions and operation of the prisons.


Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
January, 2001
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
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