BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Judge Joe S. Barkon of Grand Bassa’s Second Judicial Circuit Court is calling for an expansion of the Buchanan Prison Compound in a bid to reduce the crowded nature of the prison.
Barkon made the plea when the circuit court opened for the August term of court.
“The Buchanan Prison Compound was built in 1966 by some German national as a warehouse and turned to a prison in 1968 during the administration of former President Williams V. S. Tubman. It has the capacity to accommodate 47 inmates,” he said. “This was acquired when the population was low; now the population has increased.”
The facility now holds over 90 persons and has led to some non-COVID-19 related disease outbreaks. In response to the crowded prison, human rights activists and public defenders in Grand Bassa have called on the justice system to free detainees who committed minor crimes.
Barkon said at least five minor offenders had been free from the prison after they had been detained for longer than the constitution allows without a trial.
“But we can’t continue to free people who have committed crimes against others because the prison compound is congested,” he added. “When people who brought them to court see them in the communities, free and moving around without any other punishment, it will not present the justice system well outside there.”
He said a new or expanded prison would create more spaces for detainees and would meet present-day realities.
However, Grand Bassa’s public defender, Aaron Kartee, pleaded with the judge to find another means to punish those who commit minor offenses rather than congesting the prison compound to the extent that those who commit heinous crimes cannot be accommodated.
“Your Honor, for the past one term, we have lost two inmates as a result of a strange illness at the prison compound,” he said. “We are appealing to you to see reason to expedite or speed up the trial for those who commit minor crimes. There are more non-indictees than indictees [in prison].”
Kartee asked that the judge and the county attorney prioritize cases that have stalled for years without a trial. He noted that there are detainees who committed minor offenses such as disorderly conduct, simple assault, criminal mischief, and have been in the prison without trial for years.
As the court term opened, Judge Barkon disclosed that there were 50 cases on the docket from the May term of court – with 37 of them civil in nature. Of the 13 criminal cases, the judge said two had been disposed of completely and one is still ongoing. An additional five criminal cases transferred from the lower magisterial courts had also been dismissed as their respective prosecutors decided to no longer prosecute the cases.
“So, we have a total of seven disposed of, one ongoing and five balance,” Barkon said of the remaining criminal cases that would be tried during this court term.
He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it difficult for the court to try some criminal cases.
“As you may be aware, the Supreme Court suspended jury sitting for the trial of cases, and most of the cases, by law, require jury trial to make a final judgment,” the circuit court judge explained.
He assured the public that trials would continue while adhering to health protocols.
Featured photo by Sampson David