A home away from home
Parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra’s disclosure of the existence of a mafia inside the prisons, offering special privileges to influential inmates should engage the serious attention of the authorities. That there is a subterranean underbelly in our prisons where murky deeds are reported from time to time cannot be denied. But, that all is not well even on the surface of things too is a matter that should be dealt with in all earnest if our prisons are to be salvaged from plunging into the pits it is already sinking into. There is not a lot that goes behind the prison walls that the public are not aware of.
Speaking in parliament, during budget debate, the MP also made other startling revelations, including the presence of over 10 prison doctors who were involved in producing fake medical certificates to get VIP prisoners transferred to the Merchant ward. She also went onto detail how certain influential prisoners were receiving ‘special treatment’ and also frequent family visits. One such prisoner, who is on death row, and presently cosily tucked up in a prison hospital bed, even has had the rare privilege of celebrating his birthday behind prison walls, thanks to the facilitation of the prison mafia, Hirunika went onto state.
What the MP has disclosed is nothing new. It is public knowledge how certain prisoners fall ill no sooner the iron gates of the cell clangs shut behind them. We had a certain Basil Rajapaksa, who took a nocturnal flight to the US on election night, when the results showed his brother was doomed, returning a few months later, waving and gesticulating to the throngs who came to greet him at the airport, oozing good health and stamina, only to fall ill soon after being taken to the state run lodge, a few days later, and promptly getting himself transferred to the Merchant ward. There was also another politician, who spent his entire two year prison term at the self same Merchant ward, after being convicted for contempt of court in 2004. More recently we had even the fiery and rambunctious Galagodatte Gnanasara Thera, who is the epitome fitness and bustling activity, making a beeline to the prison ward after being briefly put behind bars, also for contempt of court. These are but examples of those who had no reason to go to the prison hospital.
The whole affair of VIP prisoners accorded special treatment and provided with special facilities have now become commonplace so much so that the public have come to treat these episodes with scepticism, nay contempt. Have our politicians developed such thick hides so much as not give a thought to the public perception about them?
The authorities should take a serious view of this whole business of VIPs, and those with influence, making our prisons a sort of home away from home. A prompt investigation is called for into Premachandra’s claim of doctors fobbing off prison authorities to get certain prisoners transferred to the Merchant ward. Whatever happened to the committee that was to be appointed to go into the malpractices of prison doctors? How come politicians develop sudden blood pressure and a spike in their sugar levels once thrown into the slammer? Is it due to, fear, tension or a guilty conscience?
The government should put a halt to the prison system being a made a mockery of in the eyes of the public. It should certainly put a halt to convicted politicians being allowed to raise their manacled hands on their way to prisons from the court in a display of heroism. The country was recently witness to the spectacle of politicians who had robbed public funds going to prisons with broad smiles, as if they welcomed the journey. A penitentiary is an institution that should evoke fear and dread, where the lawbreakers are confined, as punishment for their felonies. Politicians should not be allowed to treat this institution with disdain and contempt. Those falling ill, soon after entering prison, after being convicted, should be examined by a special board of medics. Prison doctors providing bogus medical certificates to allow “special” inmates enter the Merchant ward should be exposed and their licenses cancelled.
All prisoners are equal, like the law is equal to all. There cannot be some prisoners more equal than others. It is also an open secret that the whole prisons set up is corrupt to the core, with the highest to lowest member of the prison staff on the take. Newspapers are full of stories of how certain drug kingpins are continuing their businesses from behind the prisons walls, often times with the help of their jailers. Some inmates are also in possession of mobile phones to keep contact with the outside world. There were also reports of certain inmates shuttling between the prisons and their homes. There are also accounts of sleaze, with the connivance of prison officials. What the MP has touched may be only the tip of the iceberg.