- Over 53% of 26K plus prisoners drug offenders, shortage of 187 toilets in 27 prisons, and 287 prison toilets are in need of repair
A recent Government audit report on the management of overcrowding in prisons has revealed that the prisons capacity has exceeded by 232%.
The performance audit claimed that upon consideration of the data gathered for the last seven years, from 31 December 2015, to 31 December 2022, the number of inmates in the overall prison system in Sri Lanka has increased from 139% to 232% of the capacity in prisons. This percentage increased from 149% to 213% from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2019, and subsequently dropped to 139% by 31 December, 2021. “The reason for that was the increase of the prison capacity from 11,762 to 13,241 (that is by 12.5%) by the end of 2020,” the report read in this regard. Despite the prison capacity having increased however, the number of inmates too has increased, thereby yet again giving rise to the issue of overcrowding, with the highest number of inmates exceeding the prison capacity being recorded in 2022.
“The average monthly number of detainees held in the 12 months of 2022 is 22,097 and it has grown by 15% as compared to the average monthly number of 19,295 detainees in 2021,” the report read.
The overcrowding in prisons has also led to several other issues, including a lack of adequate space and sanitation facilities. As per the performance audit, there was a shortage of 187 toilets in 27 prisons, and 287 of the existing toilets were in a condition of repair, while 14 prisons across the island have a shortage of 108,689 square feet of space. Meanwhile, the insufficient space for female inmates in cells and wards in the Negombo and Vavuniya Prisons as at 1 July 2022, was 240 and 141 square feet, respectively.
The report further identified two reasons behind the overcrowding of prisons; one being the influence of the economic, social, political, and legal environment, in the context that difficulties faced during the economic crisis led to higher rates of criminal activity which thereby led to increased arrests, while the other reason was identified as the increase in imprisonments related to drug offences.
“A large number of inmates have been involved in drug-related offences. The number of prison inmates in Sri Lanka is 26,176, of which over 53%, i.e. 13,794, are inmates related to drug offences as at 31 December 2022,” the audit revealed.
The report further noted however that despite the rise in arrests and imprisonment as a direct result of increased criminal activity and subsequent overcrowding in prisons, the audit further highlighted that deficiencies in the administrative process related to law enforcement for criminals and imprisonment have also led to the creation of prison overcrowding.