Inmates in crowded Welikada Jail living in fear after several are diagnosed with Covid 19

ECONOMYNEXT – A group of women detainees at the Welikada jail in Colombo are staging a protest as tensions arising from the discovery of five Covid positive inmates in the overcrowded prison yesterday spilt over.

The sick inmates who are four women and one man have been transferred to the Angunakolapelessa jail and efforts were being made to safeguard the other prisoners Colombo Commissioner of Prisons (Administration) Chandana Ekanayake told EconomyNext.

Ekanayake made no mention of the protest although Human Rights groups warned EconomyNext earlier today that “tensions are rising inside the jail.”

Attorney Senaka Perera of the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners said that the authorities need to take swift action otherwise conditions in the Welikada prison could worsen.

The Welikada Correctional facility built to accommodate around 2,000 inmates now houses around 4,500 according to Perera which makes it grossly overcrowded and in a situation where a highly contagious and potentially dangerous virus is active there could be disastrous consequences.

He told EconomyNext that his organisation has warned the authorities “not to allow the situation to escalate so that extreme force would be needed to control the prisoners.”

He said that the prisoners were “living in fear because of the crowded conditions.”

The Advisor to the Ministry of Justice Attorney-at-Law Udaya-Rohan de Silva, who chairs a committee looking into various issues affecting the Prisons, told EconomyNext that at a meeting held with the Minister of Justice it was concluded that the situation at Welikada was “now under control.”

However he said that the serious issue of overcrowding in the jails, particularly the Remand Prisons was a matter of concern.

De Silva said that the committee had a discussion with the Attorney General Dappula de Silva earlier in the week who had advised the police to charge people nabbed with two or less grams of Heroin under section 78 of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance so that they could be produced before a Magistrate and granted bail.

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The same conditions would be extended to hauls less than five kg of Ganja (Cannabis Sativa L), he said.

“These instructions have been conveyed to the Inspector General of Police,” de Silva said.

Activist Perera welcomed the move from the authorities saying it was a practical solution to prevent overcrowding.

At present Police are charging those who are caught with these small quantities of Heroin under section 54 of the Ordinance which requires bail to be granted by the High Court which can take many months and higher fines which often the alleged offenders are unable to pay. (Colombo November 6, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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