Lebanon’s Roumieh prison has become a disaster waiting to happen, and no amount of visits by senior officials to the facility can hide the fact that the solution lies in actions, and not speeches.
The facility was designed in the late 1960s and nearly a half-century later, its deficiencies have become well-known to everyone: outdated and overcrowded, rife with corruption, and conducive to seemingly every type of activity except rehabilitation and punishment.
This week’s prison break by three common criminals has highlighted, once again, how Roumieh can make a brief appearance as a topical news item and “pressing national issue.” Politicians make solemn speeches about the need to overhaul the country’s most important prison, government officials pay the requisite inspection visit and throw even more rhetoric at the problem, and then the whole matter is forgotten.
Roumieh prison won’t be able to rehabilitate any prisoners until the facility itself is rehabilitated. The list of ongoing scandals is a long one. The no-go zones for prison guards, the prisoners’ easy access to mobile phones and internet, the existence of crime and terror networks operating under the nose of the prison administration – all of these and more should be treated immediately, but a few administrative measures here and a few disciplinary measures here won’t do the job.
Only a comprehensive solution will bring Roumieh in line with international standards for prisons, and only a concerted government effort – not a photo-op visit by a politician or two – will lead to any results. Until that happens, Roumieh will continue to be a disaster waiting to happen, and government officials will have only themselves to blame when the next disaster strikes.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 26, 2014, on page 7.