(By Shalika Wimalasena | Translated by Akitha Wijayasinghe)
Senaka Perera, Attorney-at-Law, Chairman of the Prisoners’ Rights Protection Committee, stated that under the Prisons Ordinance, prisoners’ labor is not allowed to be provided or sold to outsiders under any circumstances.
A letter from the Agriculture Secretary
On October 16, Major General Sumedha Perera(Retired), the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, sent a letter to Avant Agro (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Avantgarde Maritime Services Pvt.
In the letter titled ‘Rehabilitation of drug addicted and Imprisoned Prisoners by directing them to Agriculture to save the people from the menace of drugs’, the secretary to the Ministry mentions that he is writing in accordance with letter AVANT / AGRO / MAIZE / GEN (03) by the Chairman of Avantgarde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd, Nissanka Senadhipathi and his request to the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on September 28.
Prisoners cannot be used to make profit
When inquired by MediaLK regarding the written information provided by the Secretary to the Ministry regarding the use of prisoners for this project, the Chairman of the Prisoners’ Rights Protection Committee pointed out that it is possible to deploy prisoners on a formal basis for exhibitions and ceremonial occasions as such activities are non-existential and have no business purpose, adding that groups such as inmates dance groups can be brought in for private functions outside the prison by paying for private events. However, the Chairman added that the Prisons Act does not allow them to continue selling their labor for such a lucrative project for any reason and that it is illegal to do so.
He explained that opportunities have been created in prisons for work related to prisoners who have been sentenced to hard labor, for example the quarry for such prisoners in the Mahara Prison premises can be pointed out.
The government should make laws if they wish to work in that way
When asked how such activities are important for the rehabilitation of prisoners, the Chairman said that rehabilitation should be done psychologically.
He further added that it would be a serious offense to try to call such a sale of labor as rehabilitation instead of such a psychological methodology and that the government should amend the Prisons Ordinance if it wants to use prisoners for such projects and make it legal.
Rehabilitation laws violated!
However, Jayan Mendis, psychiatrist and former director of the Angoda National Institute of Mental Health told MediaLK that the situation in Sri Lankan prisons is deplorable with the use of psychological methods to rehabilitate prisoners.
Psychiatric clinics for the rehabilitation of inmates and prisoners were started in 2004 by Dr. Jayan Mendis.
The specialist doctor points out that the rehabilitation programs are not being implemented properly and the mental health of the prisoners is not being taken seriously. He further said that there should be at least one specialized psychiatrist in every prison.
He pointed out that it is his role to manage and operate such situations, adding that there were no such specialists in any prison in Sri Lanka.
If there is a prisoner with a mental illness in the absence of a psychiatrist, according to the law of the land, he or she should be referred to the Angoda National Institute of Mental Health and it is illegal to detain them inside the prison, Dr. Jayan Mendis said.
Although we have tried on several occasions to inquire from the Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya as to whether a decision has been taken to provide such prisoners for the relevant services, it was not successful. He later informed us that he was in an area where telephone signal facilities were minimal that day.