Progress in Afghan prison promising: PRT member
Lisa LaFlamme, CTV News
Published Friday, April 27, 2007 11:42AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - After three months of working inside Kandahar's Sarposa Provincial Prison, Canada's Director of Correctional Operations Linda Garwood-Filbert has learned to keep her expectations in check.
"Measuring progress on a Western level, people would probably say there isn't any, but on an Afghan level I think it's encouraging," she tells CTV News.
As members of Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, Garwood-Filbert and her colleagues make regular visits to Sarposa.
Their mandate is to mentor prison staff, help instil rule of law, confidence in government and improve the overall standard of both inmate treatment and the facility itself. It's a broad umbrella that covers everything from staff salaries (about US$70 a month for male correctional officers and $50 for women) to sanitation, cell conditions, and monitoring whether sentence conditions are followed.
"They understand we're not trying to take over," says Garwood-Filbert, adding they try not to push them in areas they don't want to go.
"But any time we've asked for documents, we've been able to go through their daily logs, we've been given access to every area of the prison and I get a sense that they're very sincere."
Over time, they've built a partnership, a relationship. In fact, the warden now calls her 'sister,' which in Afghan culture is a sign of respect and friendship.
Garwood-Filbert's personal passion is improving the situation for female prisoners, most of whom are incarcerated with their children. The female warden, with whom she works closely, lives right on the site.
"She is a 24-7 officer so we would like to bring in more officers. Shift work is not an Afghan concept, it's a Western concept. It might work here, it might not -- we'll only know if we try it," she says.
Lack of access to detainees became an issue this week as allegations of abuse emerged against detainees handed over by NATO soldiers, including Canadians, to Afghan authorities. The facility accused of the greatest mistreatment is the prison run by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's feared intelligence police. After an initial period of detention at NDS, prisoners are often transferred to Sarposa.
Garwood-Filbert has not worked inside NDS but in her time at Sarposa, while she has heard stories, she has seen no signs of abuse with her own eyes.
She has access to prisoners but admits "we can converse with prisoners but it's not as private as I would like it to be and down the road that is something we will look at."
It is her understanding that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is given private access to the inmates. However in an interview with CTV News, AIHRC Commissioner Abdul Qadar Noorzai says that was not the case until Thursday of this week. "We couldn't go there but now our people can go anywhere they want, prison, NDS, and other offices."
The new promise of transparency comes following negotiations between Ottawa and Kandahar when the issue exploded in the House of Commons.
When asked what her Afghan counterparts would think of the perception in Canada that detainees are abused, Garwood-Filbert shakes her head.
"I think they would be very confused by that perception because that's certainly not how they are working, not in the prison I work in. They would want to send the message back to Canada that those situations, on the whole, are not happening," she says.
She stresses that the warden at Sarposa has even asked for human rights training and that recently she was presented with a new Inmate Constitution.
"It is very similar to something you would see in Canada," she says. The constitution deals with an inmate's right to prayer, visitors, exercise and food.
Garwood-Filbert says she is not na�ve enough to think that cases of abuse don't happen but believes in the progress her team is making.
"It's a generational project, we're probably looking at 20 years but I think a good 5 years would probably show a significant impact," she says.
Also encouraging is the fact that jailers from rural districts are cycling through the city's prison in order to learn from their Canadian mentors.
'If we get it right in Sarposa, we have an ability to have an impact in the whole of Southern Afghanistan," Garwood-Filbert says.
CTV's Lisa LaFlamme conducted this interview with Canada's Director of Correctional Operations Linda Garwood-Filbert in Kandahar on April 24, 2007.