Prison Management and Conditions of Detention

Good prison management can vastly improve conditions of detention in the context of scarce resources, which are often present in Africa, and protect detainees from assault and ill-treatment.

Nelson Mandela remarked:

“No-one truly knows a nation until he has been inside its jails.  A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but how it treats its lowest ones.”

International norms prescribe standards  for most aspects of prison life including: accommodation, sanitation, lighting, ventilation hygiene, food and recreation. The duty of care assumed by the state when it deprives a person of their liberty requires them to ensure that such needs are properly met. Many low income countries or those affected by conflict, including many countries in Africa, struggle to provide the infrastructure, services or staffing that are deemed essential to meeting standards. But some reforms need not be expensive. For example, the ICRC cites an example of an under-populated prison in Nigeria which had grossly overcrowded cells. A broken perimeter fence in one section of the prison meant many cells were not in use. At very small expense, the fence was fixed, allowing the prisoners to be dispersed across the accommodation. Another example, is prisons in many locations in Africa which have made good use of agricultural or animal husbandry options on their land, which provides food for prisoners and opportunities for work and recreation.

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