Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life-threatening. At year’s end there were approximately 1,300 prisoners, three-quarters of whom were awaiting trial. As of August 27, the Brazzaville prison, built in 1943 to hold up to 150 prisoners, held approximately 645, including 31 women and seven minors. The Pointe Noire prison, built in 1934 to hold up to 75 prisoners, held 192, including three women and three minors. There were approximately 50 to 60 detainees and prisoners in each of the remaining 10 departmental prisons. Due to the facilities’ infrastructure constraints and lack of education services, these departmental facilities did not hold minors. Convicted minors in these districts were therefore given punishments that did not include prison sentences. Police stations regularly housed individuals in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 48-72 hours.
Separate facilities were generally maintained for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. In the 10 other prisons, there were no reported juvenile detainees, and men were held separately from women. Security measures in Brazzaville’s prison were insufficient to maintain minors’ isolation from the general prison population. Brazzaville’s prison also kept two men in the women’s facility reportedly to separate them from the general prison population for their own safety. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners in each of the 12 prisons. In Brazzaville prisoners with illnesses were kept in one cell but allowed to interact with other inmates. In Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, most cells had a functioning television. There were no televisions in the other 10 prisons.
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, and had wiring protruding from the walls. In Pointe Noire, water regularly backed 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.
Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, only one meal a day, consisting of inadequate portions of rice, bread, and fish or meat. Families were allowed to bring meals to inmates.
Authorities in the prisons provided detainees and prisoners potable water. The Pointe Noire prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.
Prison conditions for women were better than those for men in the country’s 12 prisons. There was less crowding in the women’s cells than in those for men.
The Brazzaville prison has a library with approximately 50 books but no recreation facilities. The Pointe Noire prison has no library but does use its central detainment courtyard for sports, such as soccer matches. The other prisons do not have libraries or sports facilities. The Brazzaville prison has a school for juveniles that functions three times per week for two hours per day. When available, qualified inmates taught classes. Otherwise, civil servants from the Ministry of Education taught them. There were no schools in the other prisons.
Administration: Recordkeeping in the penitentiary system did not improve during the year. Prison officials continued to use a noncomputerized recordkeeping system despite having the necessary computer equipment. A lack of Internet access and training inhibited the systematic adoption of computerized recordkeeping.
Prisoners and detainees were permitted religious observance. Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious support. Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities, but this right was not respected. There was no provision for an ombudsman. Defendants with sufficient means were able to hire private attorneys to advocate on their behalf for alternatives to incarceration or to alleviate inhumane conditions.
Before a trial the law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to detainees who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. However, the availability of this legal assistance was inconsistent because the government did not generally pay for public defenders. 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 provide due process for detainees.
Lengthy pretrial detentions were primarily due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity and financing. Judges often had a large backlog of cases, and the Ministry of Justice typically had to wait six months for funding to arrive from the national treasury before cases could go to trial. By law, criminal courts must review cases four times per year. In practice this was not possible since the ministry receives funding for processing criminal cases once a year based on the number of pending cases at the time of the request for funding.
Monitoring: As in the previous year, the government provided domestic and international human rights groups with only limited access to prisons and detention centers. However, it granted diplomatic missions access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their nationals.
Access to prisoners requires a communication permit from a judge. The permit allows visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner. Visits take place in a small room that holds one extended table at which approximately 10 detainees at a time may sit and converse with their visitors. A new permit is required for each visit. Visitors often had to bribe prison authorities to be allowed in. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits were often infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.
Improvements: During 2011 the government took some steps to improve the conditions of its prisons as part of a three-year project spearheaded by the European Union. However, the project made no progress during the year due to a lack of funding. A new prison was opened in Impfondo, capital of Likouala Department. The prison in Ouesso, capital of Sangha Department, was refurbished.