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Thousands of drug offenders to be released from prisons due to overcrowding

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s judicial system is poised to release thousands of remand prisoners accused of minor narcotic offences in a bid to reduce chronic overcrowding in the country’s prison system in the face of the COVID 19 threat.

The move comes as tensions in the prisons are growing over the threat of the pandemic.

The release is recommended for those seen as dealing in small quantities of heroin and cannabis, and not those who are addicted as the habitual users are sent for rehabilitation.

Three prisoners died as jail guards allegedly opened fire on inmates who rioted at the Anuradhapura jail protesting restrictions on family visits enforced on the jails following the COVID 19 threat on March 21.

Since them the Prisons has released several thousands of inmates from the jails in the past few weeks using existing regulations to offer detainees “leave” or on humanitarian grounds depending on age and health conditions.

This follows recommendations made by a committee appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to look into the overcrowding of the jails three weeks ago after the threat of COVID 19 exacerbated already tense conditions in the Prisons.

The President’s Secretary P B Jayasundera in a letter to the Attorney-General released to the media Thursday (April 9) referred to the “remandees who are languishing in custody over a long period of time pending the conclusion of their judicial proceedings.”

Jayasundera asked the AG to take steps to release “deserving remandees after an assessment of the seriousness of the charges levelled against them.”

Following that the AG, Dappula de Livera in a letter to the acting Inspector General of Police has stipulated that he would not object to bail being granted to remand prisoners who are detained for being in possession of less than 10 grams of Heroin, and are yet to receive the Government Analyst’s report confirming the existence of the narcotic.

According to the current law cases of anyone caught with 0.5 grams of a substance suspected to be heroin have to be referred to the AG for prosecution.

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In a letter sent to the AG on Monday April 6 the Government Analyst A Welianga noted that in samples sent to his department it is extremely rare to find more than 2 gms of pure heroin in a sample less than 10 gms and only a few examples are available where more than the stipulated amount of the drug is found in samples between 10 and 20 grams.

Remand prisoners who are detained over the possession of cannabis more than 5kg who have been in remand for more than a month and those who are detained for having less than that amount are also recommended for release.

Jayasundera’s letter pointed out that an estimated 8,000 out of the country’s 13,000 remand prisoners are detained due to these offences.

Human Rights activists have been agitating for the release of these inmates because of overcrowding. Last month they renewed their call as the COVID 19 threat increased tensions in the country’s jails. (Colombo, 9 April 2020)

 

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