Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life-threatening. Most inmates slept on the floor on cardboard or thin mattresses in small overcrowded cells, exposing them to disease. The prisons lacked any significant ventilation, had poorly maintained lighting, had wiring protruding from the walls, and had regular occurrences of water backing up into prisoners’ cells. Basic and emergency medical care was limited, and meaningful access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient personnel and overcrowding.
Detainees and prisoners are provided potable water in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire prisons; however, the two facilities do not have running water due to the deterioration of the water-pipes. There is no potable water in the country’s 10 other departmental prisons.
Record keeping in the penitentiary system did not improve during the past year. Prison officials continue to use a noncomputerized record keeping system.
Prison conditions for women were better than those for men in each of the country’s 12 prisons. There was a lower population density in the female cells than in the male cells.
The government took some steps to improve the conditions of its prisons during the year. A new prison was opened in Impfondo, capital of Likouala Department. The prison in Ouesso, capital of Sangha Department, was refurbished. The government was negotiating a contract to build a new prison that would serve Brazzaville and be located 25 miles north of the capital.
Of 12 prisons, two - one in Brazzaville and one in Pointe Noire - were fully operational during the past three years. Other facilities stopped operating at full capacity in 2008 due to infrastructure deterioration. By year’s end, the prison population was approximately 1,400, the majority of whom were awaiting trial for assault and robbery. As of October 28, the Brazzaville prison, which was built in 1943 to hold up to 150 prisoners, held approximately 645, including 11 minors. The Pointe Noire prison, built in 1940, held 240 prisoners, including four minors. There were approximately 50-60 detainees and prisoners in each of the country’s remaining 10 departmental prisons. Due to the facilities’ infrastructure constraints and lack of education services, these facilities do not hold minors. Convicted minors in these districts are therefore given punishments that do not include prison sentences. Additionally, police stations frequently house prisoners in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 48-72 hours.
Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, only one meal a day, including inadequate portions of rice, bread, and fish or low-grade meat. Families were allowed to bring meals to inmates.
Separate facilities were maintained for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. In the country’s 10 other prisons, there were no reported juvenile detainees, and men are held separately from women. Security measures in Brazzaville’s prison were insufficient to maintain minors’ isolation from the general prison population. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in each of the 12 prisons. In Brazzaville, prisoners with infectious diseases were kept in one cell but allowed to interact with other inmates. In Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, most of the cells had a functioning television with cable. There were no televisions and cable in the cells of the remaining 10 prisons.
Prisons do not have libraries or sports facilities, but the Brazzaville prison does have a school for juveniles that functions three times per week for two hours per day. The Pointe Noire prison also has a school for juveniles. Classes are taught by qualified inmates when available and by civil servants from the Ministry of Education when qualified inmates are not available. There are no schools in the country’s other 10 prisons.
Access to prisoners was conditional on obtaining a communication permit from a judge. The permit allows visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner. The visits took place in a small room that held one extended table at which approximately 10 detainees at a time might sit and converse with their visitors. A new permit is required for each subsequent visit with a prisoner. Visitors often have to bribe prison authorities to be allowed in. Many prisoners’ families lived far away, and visits were often infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel to the prison.
As in the previous year, the government provided only limited access to prisons and detention centers to domestic and international human rights groups. From January through July, a domestic human rights NGO was informally granted daily access to the Brazzaville prison by one of the facility’s administrators. This access was subsequently denied by the same administrator in late July. Diplomatic missions, however, were granted access to both the country’s prisons and to police station jails.
Prisoners and detainees were permitted religious observance. Religiously-affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious support. Prisoners and detainees are supposed to be allowed to submit complaints to judicial authorities, but in practice this right was not respected. There was no provision for an ombudsman. Defendants with sufficient means were able to hire private attorneys to serve on their behalf to propose alternatives to incarceration or to alleviate inhumane conditions.
Prior to a trial, the government is obligated by law to provide legal assistance to detainees who lack the financial resources to hire a private attorney, but this was not done in practice. The government neglected to pay its public defenders, and, consequently, legal representation for poor detainees was limited. The government investigated and monitored prison conditions at the request of local NGOs following complaints from prisoners’ and detainees’ families. However, little was done to address the penal system’s failure to ensure due process for detainees.
For example, three minors in the Brazzaville prison were detained for eight months without access to a lawyer and without their cases being heard by a judge. The minors were subsequently released. Lengthy pretrial detentions are primarily due to the country’s judicial system that lacks capacity and financing. Judges often have a large backlog of cases, and the Ministry of Justice typically must wait six months for funding to arrive from the national treasury before cases can go to trial. By law, criminal courts must review cases four times per year. In practice this is not possible since the Ministry of Justice receives funding for processing criminal cases one time per year based on the pending number of cases at the time of the request for funding.