Liberia: Where inmates are short of food, space and uniforms

When the food ran out for inmates at Liberia's main prison earlier this month it exposed the terrible conditions that have long existed in the country's jails.

The lack of supplies affected all of the country’s 15 prisons, forcing two to stop taking any new inmates. It was only after at least two days that a local philanthropist and a charity stepped in to make up for the shortfall, but the wider problems - overcrowding and a lack of funding - have not gone away.

At Monrovia Central Prison, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,400 people are crammed into a space that was initially built for less than 400. The outside of the prison has been given a facelift and the shining light grey walls could mislead passers-by into thinking that things are equally bright inside.

The food crisis gave a group of convicts, who briefly met journalists during a ceremony to open a new visitors’ hut, a rare opportunity to vent their frustration. Now in his third year in prison, one man, convicted on rape charges, hissed repeatedly as he explained the frustration over the lack of food.

“The government feeds us one plate of rice every day; one time a day” he said. As he spoke, over a dozen others nodded, the anger and frustration visible on their faces.

The man in charge of Monrovia Central Prison, Varney G Lake, admitted that the overcrowding alone amounted to a “human rights violation”. He also decried the poor infrastructure and the lack of well-maintained facilities in an interview with a local newspaper, FrontPage Africa.When the food shortage struck, Upjit Singh Sachdeva, a well-known businessman living in Monrovia, who had already been providing some food from his resources, rushed to the city’s prison with emergency rations to calm the anxiety.