The Sunday Leader

Prisons Cleared By STF Raid

By Niranjala Ariyawansha

A group of about 500 from the Police Special Task Force and the Terrorist Investigation Unit raided the Colombo Remand Prison about 1.45 pm on Monday the 24th on a request made by the senior administration of the Prisons. They had received information that for a long time prisoners have been using drugs and mobile phones inside the prisons.
This was the first time in the history of the prisons that an armed group of soldiers conducted an operation of this nature inside the prisons. The operation which commenced at 1.45 p.m. was completed only about 7 p.m. At the end of this operation they were able to recover 126 mobile phones, 55 SIM cards, 44 phone batteries, 38 chargers, 20 hands-free sets along with 40 packets of heroin each containing 5 grams.
However prison officers express concern that by calling armed soldiers into the prisons for the first time in its long history, they have not only endangered the security of the prisoners, but also done a serious damage to their professional dignity. They also make serious allegations against the intelligence unit of the prisons. A senior prison official said that armed soldiers are not allowed inside the prisons according to the Prisons Act and that there could be an exchange of fire if any of the prisoners snatched a weapon. Chandrasiri Gajadeera, Minister in charge of Rehabilitation and Prisons vehemently rejected this allegation.
“Secretary of Defence was not at all involved with this operation. We got information that strategies for various crimes are planned inside the prisons. Some prisoners have got bail but they do not go to their homes. They will commit another crime and come back to the prison. They direct large scale drug deals and other crimes from the prisons. We have to take all these into consideration and take appropriate decisions at the correct time. This is one such incident,” said the minister.
He said that no institution could be above the national security concerns, and added that according to the Prisons Ordinance, prison authorities had the power to call armed soldiers for an operation of this nature after informing the Ministry.
P. W. Kodippily, Commissioner of Prisons, commenting on the illegal items discovered during this operation said, “We don’t know how these items get inside the prisons. But we have an understanding about the weak points from which these items find their way inside. Mostly these items are in hidden inside the food packets brought in by those who visit the prisoners. Anything can happen within this environment. The buildings inside this prison premises are more than 100 years old. They can hide even bigger things than telephones in these surroundings. The soldiers who participated in the raid told us that they were surprised about the small number of items they were able to find. The surroundings of this place is such that prisoners can hide anything from us.”
However a jailor at the Welikada prison says that since the gates are managed by the officers of the Intelligence Unit, no illegal items could be brought in without their knowledge.
Commissioner of Prisons says that these illegal mobile phones and the SIM cards have been already handed over to the CID.
“We cannot formulate charges against anybody until we get the CID reports. We hope that CID will give that report. There are instances where they did not give such reports to us,” and commenting further he said, “It will facilitate our work if these reports are given to us.”
Responding to an inquiry made by us, Police Media Spokesman Ajith Rohana, Senior Superintendent of Police, confirmed this, saying, “These items have been handed over to the CID. We expect to forward the report soon.”
In the meantime a top officer of the Welikada Prison, told The Sunday Leader that if the high tech equipment and the police dogs were given to them, they could have done this job maintaining their professional dignity.
“Instead of providing equipment, higher authorities conduct various tamashas. Why can’t they purchase these essential equipment without incurring unnecessary expenditure,” he asked
But the Commissioner of Prisons says that they do not have financial provision to incur such expenses. “A scanner cost around 30-40 million. We are not able to purchase such equipment,” he said.
However the Minister says orders have been placed for required high tech equipment. He further said there is a shortage of officers in the Prisons Department but internal administration is responsible for that situation.
“During the recent past, administration has jot recruited the required staff. That is their job. Supervision of internal matters is part of their job,” the Minister pointed out. Although Department of Prisons was under the Minster of Justice earlier, now it is administered under a separate Ministry. According to the Commissioner there are 23,700 prisoners in all the prisons located throughout the country, of which 12,000 are remand prisoners. Out of the balance 11,700, there are 62 convicted for drug related offences. To manage this population there must be at least 9,000 officers. He further said that at present there were only 4,000 officers.
The Intelligence Unit has only 100 officers for the whole island. However both the Minster and the Commissioner say that they are training another 100 officers. The Commissioner further said that the main reason for all these problems was the lack of facilities and the shortage of staff.
He says they are making attempts to resolve these issues one by one. Although there were plans to take all the prisons to Wellawaya, this has been dropped on expert advice. Instead changes will be effected only at Colombo Prisons Complex.
“About an year back, we decided to shift the Welikada and Colombo Remand prisons to Mahara and Watareka. But it is not easy. This project will cost around 10,000 million. We planned this project to be completed in five years. We are still looking for a contractor,” he pointed out.
“If there are illegal items inside the prisons, investigations should be conducted. There is no debate about it. That is our duty. But there is a way of doing it. The Minister and top officials have no concern about our dignity,” they said.
In response, Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera has this to say.
“We know prison employees and officers are making serious allegations against us on this incident. We did not do this to demean anybody’s professional dignity or to hurt anybody. When the Prisons Intelligence Unit continuously forward this type of information we have to inquire into them. We stand for a social rehabilitation process. If there was a question of dignity, as the Minister it was my dignity that was affected.

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