Antananarivo — THE violent incident between detainees and prison guards at a prison east of Madagascar has brought to the fore the country's inept justice system and public security problems.
Hell recently broke loose at the Ambalatavoahangy prison in the city of Toamasina when a mutiny by inmates saw a prison warder held hostage.
It is believed the commotion followed the discovery of an illicit drug, thought to be cannabis, in the cells.
However, human rights groups argue the root of the problem is the overcrowding in the Southern African country's prisons.
"The fact that more than 55 percent of the country's prison population is still awaiting trial is a glaring example of how broken the criminal justice system is," said, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for Southern Africa.
According to World Prison Brief, Madagascar has about 25 000 prisoners. The official capacity of the prison system is put at 10 600. In view of that, the occupancy level is over 237 percent.
Amnesty International has previously warned that the unjustified and excessive use of pre-trial detention was keeping thousands of people in life-threatening prison conditions.
The group is advocating for the release all pre-trial detainees whose detentions are unjustified, arbitrary or prolonged - including those held for petty offences.
"The authorities must also provide reparations to victims of unlawful pretrial detention and take steps to build an effective criminal justice system that respects human rights," Muchena stated.
Some 129 prisoners reportedly died in Madagascar's prisons in 2017. Fifty-two of them were awaiting trial.
Prime Minister Christian Ntsay denounced the overcrowding, prolonged pretrial detention and other violations of human rights in the country's prisons.
The reform of the justice system and increasing security are seen as a priority for the administration of President Andry Nirina Rajoelina, in power since January 2019.
The Indian Ocean island country has suffered a series of prison breaks over the last decade.
In 2017, some 120 prisoners broke out of jail in northeast Ikongo prison after a lynch mob stormed the facility in search of a murder suspect.
Twenty-two inmates escaped the Tsiafahy prison outside the capital Antananarivo in 2009.
It is the same year seven prisoners fled the Ambalatavoahangy prison and eleven others escaped the Betroka jail also outside the capital city.