South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has ordered a prisoner release for New Year's Eve after inspecting conditions at an inmate facility in Juba.
Kiir said Tuesday that he would pardon inmates convicted of minor offenses who had shown good behavior. He encouraged all inmates to demonstrate good conduct and cooperate with prison officers.
"You are not here because you are hated by the people; you are here because the law wants to correct you to be a citizen that can be made of use. And being in prison does not mean you have become so useless that you cannot go back to society again," Kiir said, praising those who have "transformed themselves."
Kiir asked prison officials to come up with a list of inmates to be pardoned.
Standing alongside the president, the country's prison director, Henry Kuach Aguar, said overcrowding was a significant problem in the country's prisons, noting more than 7,000 inmates were being housed in correctional facilities across the country.
Aguar said some inmates have been in custody for years without having their day in court.
"There are so many who have overstayed [remained in prison] while they are not convicted," Aguar told South Sudan in Focus. "Some are over 10 years in prison without even investigation. This has resulted in a big number of prisoners in prison."
He added that many facilities lack adequate resources to care for inmates.
Short of funds
"Insufficient budget for the feeding of inmates, lack of budget for the rehabilitation of inmates,” Aguar said. “Most prison facilities are now dilapidated and very old, not to mention the philosophy of corruption. We have no water tanker car [for clean water], generators to supply the prison with electricity, or a cage car for the transportation of prisoners to courts, hospitals and farms."
Kiir admitted prison services needed more money and the justice system needed reform. He vowed the transitional government of national unity, which is due to be formed in February, would provide more funding for the national prison service.
"As we are now entering a new year, a new era of peace, once the revitalized transitional government of national unity is formed, the prison services will be one of the institutions given priority,” Kiir said. “Prison services will be vital in economic development and transformation of society. We shall provide all the logistics, working environment and tools to enable you to deliver your mandate."