Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: As of July, the country’s 82 prisons and detention centers held an estimated 20,954 inmates, including 903 women, 634 boys, and 47 girls; this figure represented nearly twice the official capacity of 10,360 inmates. Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children under school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers.
During the second quarter of the year, Grandir Dignement (Grow Up with Dignity), an NGO dedicated to the rights of imprisoned youth, identified 828 minor detainees held in the country’s 41 prisons, 39 jails, and two juvenile detention centers. The NGO estimated that 20 percent of the minor prisoners were colocated with adult prisoners during the day, and 5 percent shared dormitories with adults. Girls were always held together with adult female prisoners.
Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Severe overcrowding due to weaknesses in the judicial system and inadequate prison infrastructure was a serious problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), almost one in two prisoners nationwide suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition. The ICRC, in collaboration with the Catholic Chaplaincy for Prisons (ACP), treated almost 10,000 prisoners for malnutrition, including 850 for severe malnutrition, during 2016. Each inmate received approximately 10.5 ounces of cassava per day, compared with the recommended 26 ounces. The ICRC reported that, in the first half of 2015, approximately 50 persons died in prison and 27 of these deaths could be linked to malnutrition.
According to a study conducted in 2016 by Handicap International, harsh prison conditions were a source of psychological distress for 70 percent of detainees at four of the largest detention facilities covered by the study: Vatomandry, Toamasina, Mahajanga, and Toliary. According to the study, 81 percent of detainees perceived the general conditions of their detention as “bad” and 95 percent reported they “often felt hungry.” In many cases families and NGOs supplemented the daily rations of prisoners.
A deteriorating prison infrastructure that often lacked sanitation facilities and potable water resulted in disease and infestations of insects and rodents. Access to medical care was limited, particularly for detainees held at Tsiafahy, the country’s high-security detention center. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature control in facilities were either inadequate or nonexistent.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 90 deaths in prisons in 2015, none of which were attributed to actions by guards or other staff.
On July 8, in the prison of Ambalabe Antsohihy, a wall separating the men’s area from the women’s collapsed due to a strong wind, killing four detainees on the spot and four others who died later in the hospital. Media reported that the prison facilities of Antsohihy had been built more than 60 years earlier with no rehabilitation ever performed.
Administration: Ministry of Justice officials conducted intermittent inspections of facilities. While a formal process exists to submit complaints of inhuman conditions to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Officials authorized prisoners and detainees to receive weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside the scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. NGOs reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the ICRC, several local NGOs, and some diplomatic missions. Authorities permitted the ICRC to conduct visits to all main penitentiary facilities and to hold private consultations in accordance with its standard modalities. Authorities also permitted ICRC representatives to visit detainees in pretrial or temporary detention.
Improvements: According to Grandir Dignement, 20 of the country’s 41 prisons had established separate areas for boys and men as of June, an increase from 2014 when only 17 prisons had such infrastructure.
In August 2016 the government passed a law that reduced the maximum duration of pretrial detention for minor detainees to three months for correctional matters and six months for criminal matters. Under the new law, 46 minors were released between March and May.
In January the Ministry of Justice established a central pharmacy in its headquarters to supply prisons’ health units. At the same event, the ICRC announced a donation of 50 million ariary ($15,500) worth of essential medications to improve detainees’ medical care.