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From Jail to Correction Center

The green wire-mesh fence separating Gaamadhoo Jail and Himmafushi Island had gaping holes large enough for an elephant to pass through.  I asked Ahmed (all names in this article are changed) my NSS escort why the inmates don’t run away.     

Resort like beach

“Why would they?” he replied, “if someone gets to have a free stay at a resort island, he is unlikely to run away. Rather, if we improve facilities more, we may have trouble keeping people out.” I was soon to learn that he was not exaggerating. 

This was in 1997 just before the jail shifted to Maafushi. I was on a professional visit to the facility.  I got the opportunity to talk to many guards and inmates and verify Ahmed’s statement. He later explained that the jail was continuously in the process of reform. As part of the process the former Prison’s Division had become the Department of Correction, he said. 

Naseer came to the jail about 10 years ago with a life sentence. He has changed a lot since then. Now he also held a job in the jail as a guard and earned more than 2000 rufiya a month. At that time this was equivalent to the salary of a medium level officer in the government. Naseer also had the responsibility of supervising some other inmate-guards.

Naseer’s cell looked more like a bedroom than a jail. He had a ceiling fan, TV and other comforts. The furniture was modest but comfortable. Of course being a long-term inmate he had better facilities than most other convicts. 

Hussein was returning from the beach. He had a mask in one hand and a spear and a couple of fish in the other. He regularly went spear fishing in his leisure time. Sometimes in the evenings they cooked noodles and barbecue and had moonlight parties. I asked him where they get the noodles and the stove for cooking. The noodles they bought with their earnings, he said. The stove, the authorities provided.

Ali was all excited. His wife was coming the next day for their conjugal visit. Authorities had provided a special room for the service. I asked Ali whether the room was Ok. He said the only problem was there was just one room and many people who wanted to book it. 

The jail had a full time doctor. He was an Indian Tamil. I asked him whether he had all medicines he needed. He said he stocked only a few emergency drugs, but the authorities got down from Male anything he prescribed. Everything was free, of course. 

Ahmed later told me that visitors from international human rights groups had visited the jail on many occasions. All of them had given an A-report. They had rarely seen a better jail in developing countries.