SRI LANKA.— Sri Lanka has the second most overcrowded prison system in South Asia after Bangladesh, with Welikada, Sri Lanka’s largest incarceration facility, housing nearly 4,500 inmates in a facility intended for 2,000.
Cristina Albertin, a representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said, “Institutional capacity is 11,000 prisoners, the current total prison population is over 30,933.”
“We are treated as far less than human,” said one of the female prisoners,”About 150 of us sleep in a cell designed for 75 people,” she added. “An open drain infested with rats runs the perimeter of the room. Recently, one of the inmates was bitten and had to be rushed to the hospital for an anti-rabies shot.”
“Everyone receives the same abuse,” the female prisoner said, “whether we have murdered someone or simply failed to pay back a loan.”
“More than 50 per cent of these are remand prisoners and 50 per cent are incarcerated due to non-payment of fines,” Albertin said. Petty criminals are jailed alongside sexual offenders and murderers.
“There are 650 of us in the female ward though it was built for 150 people,” a female prisoner said, “There are no attempts at rehabilitation. Women here just waste away.”
In Welikada, the women prisoners often find maggots in their food. There is no beds, mats or pillows for the women to sleep on and no fans within the facility despite the extremely hot conditions.
Nearly 75 female inmates are forced to share two bathrooms, most are in absolute disrepair.
Tahini De Andrado, a senior member of Interact District 3220 of Rotary International, explained,”What’s worse is that women are locked into their cells at 5:30 every evening, and not let out to use the bathroom until five o’clock the following morning.”
“Women sleep with buckets beside them, which they use as toilets during the night. This is not a complicated issue – I think it’s a simple matter of looking at sanitation as a basic human right.”
Rotary’s District 3220 has created a project to build ten new bathrooms for the women, however collecting funding for the project has been a challenge.
“From my experience, if you approach complete strangers on the subject of prisoners’ rights and appeal to their human instincts you will find they don’t have any,” De Andrado said. “Perhaps some of these women have done wrong – but they don’t deserve to be treated like cattle once they’re inside.”
De Andrado explained, “The national policies and rules in prisons need to be in closer conformity with the UN rules for the treatment of prisoners in terms of hygiene, food, access to services like health and information and complaint mechanisms.”
The government is set to review the existing prison ordinance and introduce new legislation this year, even still many are skeptical of the likelihood of actual implementation of said legislation.
In the meantime, prisoners at the Welikada facility continue to face abysmal living conditions. Just outside, the walls of the prison read, “Prisoners are human beings.”