As police investigate the “protest” by prisoners at the Chamgang central jail, there are details emerging that are not only disturbing, but which also expose lapses in how the central jail has been managed.

The short clip that went viral is proving to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There is information that it was more than a mere protest by frustrated prisoners, some of whom are serving life sentences for gruesome crimes. It was a planned protest, and behind the scenes, some influential or notorious inmates attacked or stabbed other inmates who, even under pressure of coercion, refused to take part in the protest.

 We cannot expect discipline in prisons. The inmates are people convicted of crimes, grouped together and with an influence upon one another. At the same time, prisons are not only for punishing people. They are also places with the potential to correct or rehabilitate people who have come in conflict with law. There is, or should be, hope and expectation that if they can be corrected, they can live normal lives. There are programmes and initiatives to help prisoners take the right path to live out better choices.

The recent incident had sparked a discussion questioning the responsibility of those managing a central jail. A video clip may have found its way onto social media, but many say that this was bound to happen. It was, like many say, not a matter of “if”, but “when” it was going to happen. The prisoners had easy access to mobile phones, even if they were supposed to be strictly restricted. The allegation now is that prisoners had access to alcohol, and even drugs.

In 2019, police initiated a drug bust that seized more than 1,000 capsules of spasmo proxyvon plus (SP+) from inmates in the jail. But no one knows what happened or what conclusions were drawn after the bust.

Although inmates and their close associates know how the prohibited items are made accessible, those in the authority are quick to blame visitors. Visitors say they are checked thoroughly when visiting the prison. Perhaps it is, then, the law enforcers who have not applied the same vigilance to themselves. 

At the heart of the problem is the systematic flaw of not implementing the provisions of the Prison Act. The Act mandates all inmates to be treated the same, but inmates allege special treatment for some among them. It also mandates those on duty to be transferred after serving for a certain number of years. In reality, many have been there for too long, becoming closer to inmates and becoming complacent. 

Besides the prison administration issue, many also know how lucrative it is to be posted at the Chamgang jail for duty. It is alleged that officials on duty take advantage of skilled prisoners, whether it is to make free or cheap furniture, or even intricate embroidered pieces. 

The recent problem arose because a new management tried to implement the rules. Prisoners, used to leniency or mismanagement, were not happy with the change.

The good news is that there are various investigations being carried out surrounding the protest. Independent investigations will bring out the truth. Investigations should go beyond the recent alleged brutality and raid of mobile phones and drugs. It is alleged that inmates even set up traps to injure police on duty. Accountability and appropriate action need to be taken on both sides.

With transparency and accountability, a lot of loopholes could be closed.