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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The ICRC study on overcrowding in prisons is deeply depressing, not only because of the sordid picture it reveals, but also because reform would be so easy, if only there were better coordination. Unfortunately we have now in Sri Lanka built up a system in which coordination is almost impossible, and the information that should stir authorities to change things is rarely systematically collated and effectively presented.

It was the Minister of Justice who initially alerted me to the ICRC study, and much of the change has to come from institutions connected with justice. However getting the Judiciary to move is almost impossible, as the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice found, her plea to the Chief Justice to convene a meeting to look at the issue having fallen on deaf ears. I have been luckier, in that I have got replies to letters I sent, but the effect of these is to make it clear that nothing will be done since the judiciary is not responsible for action.

I suppose this is strictly speaking true, but I cannot understand why the judiciary will not develop norms for sentencing based on reducing unnecessary suffering as well as expense. The ICRC study notes that, ‘Out of the total admissions in 2010…… 75.7% (100,191) consisted of remandees, of whom  21.9% spent between 14 days and 1 month in remand and 25.5% (3’367) spent less than 14 days in remand’.

Since the approximate average cost per prisoner per day is Rs. 318.00, the total per month (· Estimated approx total cost for month (100,000 detainees x 30 days) is Rs. 954,000,000, ie 12 billion rupees a year, given that some months are longer.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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