3 April 2014

Tunisia: Overcrowding, Main Problem of Prisons in Tunisia (OHCHR)

Tunis — Overcrowding remains a major problem in Tunisian prisons and preventive detention centres, a report of the Office of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Human Rights concluded.

"This overcrowding often exceeds 150% of prison capacity in some prisons," noted the report entitled "situation of prisons in Tunisia between international standards and reality," whose results were presented by the OHCHR office in Tunis, Thursday at the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Transitional Justice.

This rate of overcrowding is estimated at 150.6% in the prison of Kasserine, 138.2% in the prison of Kairouan and 115.6% in Messaadine (Sousse), said the report.

"These rates were calculated on the basis of the number of beds and the size of prison cells," the report noted.

Indeed on the date of October 25, 2013, the cell No. 8 in the prison of Houareb (Kairouan), with an area of 200 m², housed 125 inmates, i.e. a surplus of 75 people compared to international standards, namely four prisoners in a cell of 16 m².

The report also added that the preventive detention centre of Mornaguia with a capacity of 5,021 beds, housed 6,308 inmates on the date of November 14, 2013, i.e. an overcrowding of 25.6%.

This problem of overcrowding, plus the lack of ventilation and lights in cells are factors that may cause contagious diseases, particularly scabies and psychic disturbances among inmates who have only a round per day.

"Overcrowding increases the risk of fights and violence between inmates and reduces the ability of prison guards to control the situation," reads the same reports which cites the example of the civil prison of Kef where each prison guard is responsible for 76 inmates.

The separation of prisoners based on the nature of offenses is not always guaranteed, OHCHR reporters regret.

However, the report made a positive assessment of the respect of prisoners' right to food, cleanliness, medical care, visit of their relatives and access to education and re-integration programmes.

The report recommends developing the criminal law in Tunisia towards guarantees for fair trial.

"The results of this report are the fruit of two years of work (2011-2013) during which regular visits were made in prisons and detention centres under the Ministry of Justice," recalled the representative of the OHCHR office in Tunis.

He said three elements were taken into consideration in developing this report: relevant international standards, the Tunisian legislation and statistics provided by the Directorate General of Prisons and Rehabilitation.

The Representative of the General Directorate of Prisons and Rehabilitation said the directorate is planning training sessions on rights and methods of treatment of inmates, stressing the concern to work to implement the recommendations of this report.

Tunisia has 6 rehabilitation centres and 27 prisons, including 19 preventive detention centres. Over 53% of inmates in Tunisian prisons are convicted in cases of drug consumption or trafficking.

The legislative framework governing the prison system in Tunisia dates back to May 2001 when a special law was enacted to organise the sector.

The OHCHR officially opened an office in Tunisia in July 2011, in the presence of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

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