MASERU — Mafeteng Prison was closed on Tuesday this week after it was deemed unfit for human habitation, correctional services authorities announced yesterday.
Speaking at a press conference, Lesotho Correctional Services Senior Assistant Commissioner, Matingoe Phamotse said prisoners were transferred to other facilities in Maseru and Mohale’s Hoek.
Fifty one male inmates were transferred to the Mohale’s Hoek prison while thirty seven have been moved to the Maseru Central Prison.
Nine female prisoners are being kept at the female prison facility in Maseru.
Phamotse said the prison had been shut down following a recommendation by the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Health “which declared the facility inhabitable”.
“Following investigations that started in 2004, experts from the ministries of public works and health divisions respectively, have found the prison facility to be non-conducive for human life,” Phamotse said.
According to Phamotse, the reports indicated that the prison was no longer fit to house humans and “also posed a health risk for both prisoners and warders”.
All the prisoners have been transferred, Phamotse said, except for a few still awaiting trial in Mafeteng.
He said: “The inmates were informed of the closure and relocation beforehand.”
It is expected that the prisoners will be relocated back to Mafeteng closer to their families, once a new main prison facility has been built, Phamotse added.
The government is said to be currently looking into securing funds for construction to commence.
Meanwhile M7 million has been set aside for the refurbishment of the smaller open correctional institution which is due for completion by December this year.
Asked why it had taken LCS so long to shut the place down and relocate the prisoners after receiving reports on the safety concerns, Phamotse said they had tried to avoid relocating the inmates “where they would be further away from their families”.
Meanwhile, an April 30 visit and inspection of Maseru Central Prison by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane accompanied by the deputy prime minister and an entourage of ministers, including the health and justice ministers, revealed that inmates at the facility lived on a poor diet and had to endure inhospitable living conditions.
The premier agreed that the prison’s facilities were in bad state and that government had seen it all.
“We need to upgrade this place to a better correctional service. No one must live under such conditions. One might even ask whether he deserves to live like an animal,” Thabane said.
The tour revealed the sad state of the prison, such as rough floors with holes and cramped cells, some of which housed sixteen inmates at a time.
While some cells have beds, others only have mattresses whereas in some cells inmates are forced to improvise by folding their blankets to create makeshift beds.
Due to the lack of proper ventilation, cells are also clogged with a foul smell.