Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: In 2012 numerous international human rights organizations – including Journalists in Africa for Development, Prison Fellowship, and Amnesty International – as well as some prison personnel, reported that torture was widespread, although there were no such reports during the year. There were credible reports that adult inmates sexually abused juvenile prisoners. Overcrowding was pervasive. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as four to five times the intended capacity. Sanitation and medical care were wholly inadequate.
In December 2012 the country’s 77 functional prisons, which had an intended capacity of 16,995 inmates, held 25,337 prisoners and detainees, including 515 women and 865 juveniles, according to the Justice Ministry’s 2012 human rights report. As of September the Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison, built to hold 1,000 inmates, held 4,215. Douala’s New Bell Prison, designed for 800, held approximately 3,000 inmates. The Bertoua Central Prison in the East Region, built in 1930 to house 120 prisoners, held more than 500.
There were two separate prisons for women and a few pretrial detention centers for women, but officials routinely held women in police and gendarmerie complexes with men, occasionally in the same cells. Conditions for male and female inmates were equally poor. Authorities often incarcerated juvenile prisoners with adults, occasionally in the same cells or wards. Certain prisons, such as the Tibati and Tignere prisons in the Adamawa Region, did not have separate wards for women and juveniles. Prison authorities routinely held pretrial detainees in cells with convicted criminals.
Deaths from illness, malnutrition, and lack of medical care occurred. Deficiencies in health care and sanitation were common in all prisons and remained a significant problem. Disease and illness were widespread, and sick inmates were not systematically separated from the general population. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and chronic diseases, were rampant. Doctors and medicine were inadequate. While inmates with HIV/AIDS sometimes received their medication on time, they often lacked the diet needed to make the drugs effective. Potable water was inadequate, and officials expected prisoners’ families to provide food for their family members. For example, New Bell Prison contained seven water taps for approximately 3,000 prisoners, contributing to poor hygiene, illness, and death.
The daily food allocation per prisoner was 228 CFA francs ($0.47). Corruption among prison personnel was widespread. Pretrial detainees reported that prison guards sometimes required them, under threat of abuse, to pay “cell fees,” money paid to prevent further abuse. Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, beds, and transfer to less-crowded areas of the prisons. Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained in prison after completing their sentences or receiving court orders of release.
In temporary holding cells within police or gendarme facilities, officials held together adult men, juveniles, and women. Detainees usually received no food, water, or medical care. Detainees whose families knew of their incarceration relied on their relatives for food and medicine. Overcrowding was common. Detention center guards accepted bribes from detainees in return for access to better conditions, including permission to stay in an office instead of a cell.
Many citizens in the North and Far North regions turned to traditional chiefs, or lamibe, for dispute resolution. According to human rights defense groups, including the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties and the League for Human Rights, private prisons with reputations for serious abuse continued to operate within the palaces of the traditional chiefdoms of Rey Bouba, Gashiga, Bibemi, and Tcheboa. Although such prisons operated illegally, the government had not conducted any investigations by year’s end.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, although the Ministry of Justice had begun to computerize case files. In 2012 Catholic Relief Services completed its Pride Project to improve recordkeeping in prisons and to develop alternative sentencing proposals for the government. During the year the NCHRF also proposed alternatives to detention, such as community labor. Nevertheless, the government had adopted no changes to sentencing guidelines by year’s end. Authorities allowed prisoners access to visitors and religious observance. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. The country had no prison ombudsman. As of October the NCHRF had conducted no in-depth investigations in the country’s prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted international humanitarian organizations access to prisoners. The NCHRF and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Commission for Justice and Peace made infrequent, unannounced prison visits during the year. The government continued to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons, and it conducted visits during the year. Human rights activists attempting to visit prisoners reported that they were required to pay substantial bribes to prison officials.
Improvements: In a January interview with the government-owned newspaper Cameroon Tribune, the NCHRF chairman reported a new library at the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde.