The truth is that most people who are locked up in Mauritius, despite the catwalk of VIPs and VVIPs getting locked up in police cells recently, are locked up because they are poor. They should not be behind bars at all, and the billions spent on incarcerating people, mainly young men, could be spent much better on the State creating jobs, for example, in food production or renewable energy production.
Of the 2,500 prisoners locked up by the State, half are on remand. They have not yet been sentenced by any court at all. This is a severe inroad into the “innocent until proven guilty” principle, which is the only principle so far imagined that helps bar State abuses against individuals. The exact figure for 2013, according to the Mauritius Prison service 2014 magazine is 48% are on remand. These are people who cannot afford the bail fixed by the Magistrate. Which means that half the people locked up are locked up because they are poor. The contrast with the “deals” struck by recent VIPs on the bail they can “afford” is in sharp contrast with this figure. Former Prime Minister got his bail reduced by half just yesterday, 4 June, 2015.
What about the other half who are locked up after a judge or magistrate has found them guilty? This is equally shocking. There are a quarter jailed simply because they cannot afford the fine handed down. Once again, they are locked up because they are poor. Now amongst the one quarter of “genuine prisoners” who are locked up for reasons other than their inability to raise either bail money or fine money, we find that more than half are locked up for less than 6 months. It makes one wonder whether they could not have been given a fine instead. Amongst these supposedly “genuine prisoners”, we must remember that the vast majority, some 90% are people unable to pay for the services of a top lawyer. So, there again, there are many who are locked up for economic reasons.
Of the 2,990 people sentenced to prison in 2013, 40% are for theft, 31% for fraud and similar offenses, and 12% for drug-related offenses. Only 9% are for offenses of aggression.
And of the total 100% locked up during the course of 2013, the shocking figure of 92% were locked up simply because they could not afford a fine of less than Rs25,000.
It is high time people were just simply released from prison into community service, and the public money spent on creating jobs.