Lebanon News

Machnouk: Prison crisis a threat to economy

A photo which appeared during Machnouk's presentation says: "14 prisoners in a 6 meter-squared cell," in reference to crowding in Lebanon's prisons. (Reproduction from a distributed booklet)

BEIRUT: The terrorism brewing at Roumieh prison affects the security and economy of the entire country, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Friday in a bid to convince Lebanon’s banking leaders to fund an ambitious reform program.

In a fundraising meeting with the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Machnouk insisted that the prison crisis is “a problem with a solution,” while laying out the dire state of affairs in Lebanon’s largest prison.

In a video report presented by Machnouk, Roumieh was described as a “ticking time bomb” with 3,600 prisoners packed into a facility meant to house just 1,050 and drug rings and terrorist networks operating freely within its walls. The prison lacks clean water for days at a time, and 165 prisoners suffer from transferrable, dangerous, and/or chronic illnesses with no health care to speak of.

In an emergency move to contain the growing terrorism in Roumieh, Machnouk also revealed that with the help of the security forces, 300 of the most dangerous fundamentalists were moved to a secure building off the premises.

While Roumieh is the most extreme example, prisons across Lebanon are plagued by overcrowding, decaying buildings, lack of control over criminal and terrorist activities and the absence of security and discipline, the report added.

This overcrowding leads to inhumane conditions for prisoners, who on average have one twelfth the living space recommended by international standards. Moreover, 69 percent of prisoners in Lebanon are still awaiting trial and those who have been convicted of minor crimes are often housed with those accused or convicted of serious violent ones.

Machnouk proposed a comprehensive reform program to address these and other violations. The program includes the renovation of the prison, the construction of four new ones and the development of a proper health care program along with social and educational rehabilitation.

The report acknowledged that past attempts to intervene were unequivocal failures, citing last year’s corruption scandal surrounding the rehabilitation of Roumieh’s Block D. The new proposal includes oversight mechanisms to ensure accountability, the minister promised.

The entire project is projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which Machnouk is hoping to solicit from friendly Arab countries and the banking sector.

“This is a problem that affects all of society and should be addressed by the public and private sector together,” Machnouk said.

He added that while Lebanon would provide land and ease the access of foreign government and companies working to build prisons, the Lebanese government would not be investing any funds in the project.

Following the video report, the ABL and Machnouk held a closed-door meeting with no announcements made after.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 31, 2014, on page 3.


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