Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued in many prisons. As of December there were 16,127 prisoners, of whom an estimated 381 were minors and 386 were women. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,791. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity.
Authorities usually held men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and usually held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international NGOs.
According to government figures, 21 prisoners died through September 20. Human rights groups did not report that any prisoners died from unnatural causes.
Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses, but it was unclear whether prisoners had access to these medical professionals at all times. Prison authorities reported that two doctors spend the night at Abidjan’s main prison and were always available for urgent cases, but human rights groups alleged that prisoners must rely upon guards to allow them to see medical staff at night. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors, and prison authorities claimed that 97 percent of medical evacuation requests were approved.
Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always available at local hospitals or clinics. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases like malaria, but not for more expensive medicines for illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. In some cases prison pharmacists would write a prescription, and a family member would fill it. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.
Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages could occur due to disagreements among the prisoners about how to allocate it.
According to human rights groups, conditions were inhuman in police and gendarmerie temporary detention facilities, with detainees in close proximity to extremely unsanitary toilets. The 48-hour limit for detention without charge was often ignored and renewed, with the average time being eight to nine days. Officials sometimes listed the date of detention as several days later than the actual date of arrest while conducting an investigation to conceal the length of time the prisoner was actually in temporary detention.
Wealthier prisoners reportedly could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 400-450 CFA francs ($0.74-$0.83) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budget did not increase with the number of prisoners. Water was potable, but prisons sometimes experienced shortages. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, and they could bring food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.
While information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available, NGOs and international visitors had some access to the centers. Based on their visits, they generally agreed with government reports that these facilities were in decent condition.
There were a few prison outbreaks during the year, notably in August when five prisoners escaped from the prison in Gagnoa and 20 from the prison in Abidjan, and in September when almost 100 followers of “Yacou the Chinese,” a prisoner who died in 2016 during a confrontation with security forces, escaped from a prison in the central region.
Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities, although there was no process for handling the complaints. Prison authorities had limited capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions, but they improved some conditions, such as hygiene and nutrition. A human rights NGO reported that prisoners who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.
Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons but not to detention centers run by the DST. Local human rights groups reported having access to prisons when they formally requested such in advance, although Amnesty International reported that all of its requests to visit prisons had been refused since 2013, when it produced a critical report.
Improvements: The nutritional content improved at Abidjan’s main prison, and the level of malnutrition decreased. In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build a kitchen in the section for prisoners who are minors.