Seychelles prisons a sad state of affairs

The Seychelles Prisons’ Department again made headlines last weekend, for all the wrong reasons, as another inmate, Dean Bristol, loses his life, while serving a sentence at Montagne Posee.

This time, it has been reported that the man, hung himself in the dry cell area after an incident which allegedly involves one of the foreign prison guards. The Tanzanian guards were recruited specifically to guard the institution, that has for the last few years been trying to clean up its image as the place where those sent to reform, somehow end up losing their lives.

Two years ago, another man named Keven Bristol also lost his life, through circumstances his relatives deemed suspicious. Bristol was serving a short sentence for non- payment of child maintenance fees – only leaving Montagne Posee in a coffin in the early hours of April 15, 2018.

Prior to Bristol, on 19 March 2016, another 40-year-old inmate, Robert Banane, died after sustaining injuries in an incident at the prison. This had caused the then President James Michel, to launch an inquiry into the incident only to later discover that Banane died from gunshot injuries he had sustained, although it is still unclear to this day as to how he had been shot.

Forward to October 2020, another Bristol, loses his life in the same institution that had been given the responsibility of reforming him so that he may rejoin society as a productive member, begging the question as to whether the prison system is getting close to fulfilling its mandate of reforming inmates.

Equally worrying this year at least two female prisoners have been reported as falling pregnant while serving out their sentences. It is alleged that the prison guards are the ones responsible for the pregnancies. This brings into question the credibility of the guards especially the foreign ones employed to safeguard the prisoners.

Over the last few years, under new leadership, the prisons’ department has gone to many lengths to show that it now has policies and strategies in place to ensure that once inmates leave their institution they are equipped to re-enter society.

Granted that the number of inmates has drastically reduced since 2015 when Seychelles topped the list of the countries with the highest number of incarcerated persons per 100 000 people.  In 2016, Montagne Posee prison was bursting with the bulk of the 786 prisoners and an incarceration rate of 868 per 100 000 of the population. The authorities had admitted back then that many of those convicted were in for to drug related offenses.

Although the current figures stand at 356 per 100,000 of the population and is an huge improvement for an establishment that can only hold 757 inmates at capacity, the numbers are still high for a population of roughly 98,000.

The constant struggle for the department to find adequately trained personnel to man the prison – forcing them to recruit from overseas – is also another aspect that the authorities have to deal with.

In an attempt to ensure that the inmates’ wellbeing is taken into account, the new administration has amongst its ranks employees with social work baggage – whether the numbers they have are adequate is yet to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, work programmes for the prisoners are lending support and it acts like a means through which the inmate’s mental wellbeing is being taken into account. Sadly, if the latest reports of the inmates becoming agitated over the yet to be clear circumstances of the recent death, is anything to go by, much work needs to be done, not only to keep the inmates alive, but also deter the youths from ending up at Montagne Posee in the first place.