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Minister D.M. Swaminathan

A prison with a swimming pool has been planned and almost complete for inmates at a facility in Tangalle, who will be moved to a location in Angunakolapelessa as part of the process for reforms to be carried out in Sri Lanka.

Minister of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Hindu Affairs D.M. Swaminathan spoke to Nation on the status updates of prison relocation, the issue of prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the support given to civilians who have been resettled in their areas after displacement.

Q. There are reports of relocation of prison complexes and establishment of new correction facilities. Can you explain the status with regard to this?
The prison reforms are being carried out in several stages. The relocation of prisons from existing suburban areas to interior areas is the main step of this process.

The Welikada Convicts Prison will be relocated to Soranawatte in Horana. This has received Cabinet approval, so, we have written to the UDA to transfer the land to the Prisons Department. We are awaiting the transfer. After the land transfer is finalised we will look into the details such as the planning, infrastructure etc. A representative from the ICRC is also being consulted for this process to ensure that we are following the international guidelines prescribed for the management and maintenance of prisons.

There is also a plan to shift the Colombo remand prison to the BCC land in Hulftsdorp near the Justice Ministry. This would save time and money spent for the transportation of prisoners on court days also. However, it is still at negotiation levels.

In addition, the prisons in Galle and Matara will be moved to Boossa and Kotiwilawatte respectively. The Trincomalee prison will be moved to Kappalthurai while the prison in Batticaloa will be shifted to Thirupperunthurai, and the Negombo prison will be moved to Katana.

Plans of these projects are being drawn up by the State Engineering Corporation. After the plans are finalised we will look into the preparation of expenditure estimates.

The Tangalle prison will also be moved to Angunukolapelessa.  On September 30 I was informed that over 90% of the physical aspect of the project had been completed. This is estimated at Rs.4.9 billion. For 2016 we have received a budgetary allocation of Rs. 2.6 billion for this project.  We will house 1200 prisoners in this prison and it is being designed in accordance with the ICRC regulations. It is also inclusive of a common swimming pool and an indoor ground.

Q. There have been issues pertaining to aspects such as cleanliness, hygiene, and overcrowding of prisons. Are you looking at these aspects as well?
Yes. In fact, as part of the reforms the Ministry is also taking steps to provide improved sanitation, safe drinking water, adequate ventilation, access to medical services, cleanliness, maintenance, quality food and satisfactory outdoor time.

The Ministry is also looking into the separation of offenders based on the category. (hardcore, minor offender, newly arrived, long-term re-entered prisoners). In addition, policy measures are being taken to instil discipline without force and fair treatment of prisoners within the prisons system

Q. There are reports of relocation of prison complexes and establishment of new correction facilities. Can you explain the status with regard to this?
The prison reforms are being carried out in several stages. The relocation of prisons from existing suburban areas to interior areas is the main step of this process.

The Welikada Convicts Prison will be relocated to Soranawatte in Horana. This has received Cabinet approval, so, we have written to the UDA to transfer the land to the Prisons Department. We are awaiting the transfer. After the land transfer is finalised we will look into the details such as the planning, infrastructure etc. A representative from the ICRC is also being consulted for this process to ensure that we are following the international guidelines prescribed for the management and maintenance of prisons.
There is also a plan to shift the Colombo remand prison to the BCC land in Hulftsdorp near the Justice Ministry. This would save time and money spent for the transportation of prisoners on court days also. However, it is still at negotiation levels.

In addition, the prisons in Galle and Matara will be moved to Boossa and Kotiwilawatte respectively. The Trincomalee prison will be moved to Kappalthurai while the prison in Batticaloa will be shifted to Thirupperunthurai, and the Negombo prison will be moved to Katana.

Plans of these projects are being drawn up by the State Engineering Corporation. After the plans are finalised we will look into the preparation of expenditure estimates.

The Tangalle prison will also be moved to Angunukolapelessa.  On September 30 I was informed that over 90% of the physical aspect of the project had been completed. This is estimated at Rs.4.9 billion. For 2016 we have received a budgetary allocation of Rs. 2.6 billion for this project.  We will house 1200 prisoners in this prison and it is being designed in accordance with the ICRC regulations. It is also inclusive of a common swimming pool and an indoor ground.

Q. There have been issues pertaining to aspects such as cleanliness, hygiene, and overcrowding of prisons. Are you looking at these aspects as well?
Yes. In fact, as part of the reforms the Ministry is also taking steps to provide improved sanitation, safe drinking water, adequate ventilation, access to medical services, cleanliness, maintenance, quality food and satisfactory outdoor time.

The Ministry is also looking into the separation of offenders based on the category. (hardcore, minor offender, newly arrived, long-term re-entered prisoners). In addition, policy measures are being taken to instil discipline without force and fair treatment of prisoners within the prisons system

Q. Would there be changes or amendments to the Prisons Act in respect of these developments that you mentioned?
Yes, the Prisons Act will also be amended. This piece of legislation is very old and it needs to be updated to upgrade the prisons system. So our proposals have been submitted to the Legal Draftsman, which incorporates the reform policies as well. The legal draftsman has forwarded it to the Attorney General for observations.

In addition, a pilot project, electronic information management system, has been established at Welikada Prison. We are testing the outcome of it these days. Information regarding prisoners are manually entered, which is time-consuming and it is difficult to cross reference with other data as well. So the electronic information system is helpful to find information about prisoners, second time offenders and if this is successful it will also contribute the court processes as well.

Q. Several prisoners who were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) had staged hunger strikes in the recent past. What action has been taken to expedite their cases?
As per the figures sent to us in August by the AG’s department, 112 files with regard to cases under the PTA have been sent to the Attorney General’s Department for advice and out of the 112, 108 cases have been concluded by end of 2015.

In 2016, 16 cases under the PTA have been received by the Attorney General’s Department for advice.

During this year nine suspects detained under the PTA have been recommended for rehabilitation, 27 have been discharged from proceedings and seven indictments have been forwarded to the High Court.

From 11.11.2015 to this day, 39 suspects who were in remand custody for offences under the PTA, have been enlarged on bail with the sanction of the Attorney General.

In addition, just last month, after having discussions with the Attorney General’s Department he agreed to consider 23 cases out of the 96 indictments pending before high court with regard to cases under the PTA  to arrange a plea. So these 23 detainees, if they are willing, will be sent for rehabilitation for six months and afterwards they will be released without having to serve their prison sentences.

Q. There are Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are still housed in temporary shelters years after the war ended. Can you explain the status of the resettlement process?
As at August 31 this year, the Ministry has resettled 253,560 families (882,931 individuals). However, a total number of 13,670 families (43,604 individuals) are yet to be resettled.

Q. What about the Sri Lankan refugees who return from Tamil Nadu? What are the challenges that you face when resettling them?
From 2011 to October 18, 2016, 1870 families have returned to Sri Lanka as refugee returnees.

The refugee returnees are investigated by the Terrorist Investigation Division and the State Intelligence Service at the Airport. This usually takes several hours.

While these investigations are important to uphold the country’s security measures, if the inquiries can be expedited or carried out in a flexible manner the returnees would not be inconvenienced.  When there are children or older people in the returning families it is difficult for them to wait for long hours until the inquiries are over.

This is one area that we need to discuss with the relevant authorities to expedite the investigations process so that the returning families can leave the airport quickly. It will also encourage them to return to Sri Lanka if the process is made hassle-free.

The other factor is the re-registration of births and identifications upon returning to Sri Lanka. Since these regulations are usually applied to families living abroad (who are not refugees) about Rs 25,000 has to be paid to register. But the returning refugee families cannot afford such an amount. It would be encouragement for them to return if this fee is waived off or a normal fee is charged from them. So the Ministry has submitted a Cabinet paper in that regard which has been forwarded to the relevant authorities as well and it is awaiting approval.

The returning families are provided with monetary allocations and a  non monetary   allocation for food and other purposes by the UN Refugee Agency. They are also eligible to apply for housing and livelihood assistance provided by the Ministry. Even their educational qualifications are recognised in Sri Lanka. So the children can resume their education from the grade they studied while in Tamil Nadu upon their return to Sri Lanka.

Yes, the Prisons Act will also be amended. This piece of legislation is very old and it needs to be updated to upgrade the prisons system. So our proposals have been submitted to the Legal Draftsman, which incorporates the reform policies as well. The legal draftsman has forwarded it to the Attorney General for observations.

In addition, a pilot project, electronic information management system, has been established at Welikada Prison. We are testing the outcome of it these days. Information regarding prisoners are manually entered, which is time-consuming and it is difficult to cross reference with other data as well. So the electronic information system is helpful to find information about prisoners, second time offenders and if this is successful it will also contribute the court processes as well.

Q. Several prisoners who were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) had staged hunger strikes in the recent past. What action has been taken to expedite their cases?
As per the figures sent to us in August by the AG’s department, 112 files with regard to cases under the PTA have been sent to the Attorney General’s Department for advice and out of the 112, 108 cases have been concluded by end of 2015.

In 2016, 16 cases under the PTA have been received by the Attorney General’s Department for advice.

During this year nine suspects detained under the PTA have been recommended for rehabilitation, 27 have been discharged from proceedings and seven indictments have been forwarded to the High Court.

From 11.11.2015 to this day, 39 suspects who were in remand custody for offences under the PTA, have been enlarged on bail with the sanction of the Attorney General.

In addition, just last month, after having discussions with the Attorney General’s Department he agreed to consider 23 cases out of the 96 indictments pending before high court with regard to cases under the PTA  to arrange a plea. So these 23 detainees, if they are willing, will be sent for rehabilitation for six months and afterwards they will be released without having to serve their prison sentences.

Q. There are Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are still housed in temporary shelters years after the war ended. Can you explain the status of the resettlement process?
As at August 31 this year, the Ministry has resettled 253,560 families (882,931 individuals). However, a total number of 13,670 families (43,604 individuals) are yet to be resettled.

Q. What about the Sri Lankan refugees who return from Tamil Nadu? What are the challenges that you face when resettling them?
From 2011 to October 18, 2016, 1870 families have returned to Sri Lanka as refugee returnees.

The refugee returnees are investigated by the Terrorist Investigation Division and the State Intelligence Service at the Airport. This usually takes several hours.

While these investigations are important to uphold the country’s security measures, if the inquiries can be expedited or carried out in a flexible manner the returnees would not be inconvenienced.  When there are children or older people in the returning families it is difficult for them to wait for long hours until the inquiries are over.

This is one area that we need to discuss with the relevant authorities to expedite the investigations process so that the returning families can leave the airport quickly. It will also encourage them to return to Sri Lanka if the process is made hassle-free.

The other factor is the re-registration of births and identifications upon returning to Sri Lanka. Since these regulations are usually applied to families living abroad (who are not refugees) about Rs 25,000 has to be paid to register. But the returning refugee families cannot afford such an amount. It would be encouragement for them to return if this fee is waived off or a normal fee is charged from them. So the Ministry has submitted a Cabinet paper in that regard which has been forwarded to the relevant authorities as well and it is awaiting approval.

The returning families are provided with monetary allocations and a  non monetary   allocation for food and other purposes by the UN Refugee Agency. They are also eligible to apply for housing and livelihood assistance provided by the Ministry. Even their educational qualifications are recognised in Sri Lanka. So the children can resume their education from the grade they studied while in Tamil Nadu upon their return to Sri Lanka.