Prison conditions in the central African country of Chad are not widely known about; a fact the authorities are undoubtedly pleased to hear, because if more people did know I would like to think that there would be such disgust as to cause an uproar. In fact, Chad is not widely known about at all; when you type it into Google, a magazine from a town in Nottingham appears above any reference to the country!
Let me explain just some of the problems in Chad, as there are too many to list here. The prisoners lives are at real risk; severe overcrowding (most prisons are operating at four or five times their intended capacity) and unventilated cells leading to temperatures of 48degrees Celsius have contributed to Amnesty calling the prisoners situation ‘a death sentence.’ Deaths in the last year have included seven prisoners shot by prison guards, nine deaths through a lack of oxygen and five by dehydration. Water is scarce and inmates are sometimes asked by the guards for money to buy drinking water. Furthermore, prisoners are given poor quality food once a day in groups, with the weaker ones frequently receiving nothing.
Illness and disease are rife, with skin diseases resulting from being chained 24 hours a day and STIs including malaria and tuberculosis are commonplace. Access to healthcare is almost non-existent; not a single prison in the country has a doctor on their staff, leaving prisoners with medical skills to provide treatment to other inmates. Amnesty highlighted a situation where a detainee sentenced to two years imprisonment for practising medicine illegally was treating fellow prisoners.
And it gets even worse. Males and females are held in the same cells including children as young as 7 – victims of a system which has no child detention or rehabilitation facilities. Rape by guards and other prisoners is common for female prisoners in Chad. Furthermore, it’s not just prisoners affected; poor hygiene, including blocked sewage systems, also affect the local community.
The root of the problem comes down to the corrupt system. Staff are not regularly paid and are therefore susceptible to bribes, often releasing prisoners early in return for money. Access to lawyers is very limited, leading to countless ‘forgotten detainees’ that judicial authorities are unaware of. Inefficiency also means that prisoners are often detained for months after a decision to release them is pronounced by a judge. Only 2% of the annual budget of Chad is allocated to the justice sector and mainly covers staff salaries, leaving little left over to improve the system.
But it’s not all bad news. Amnesty International has called on the Chadian government to ensure that food, medicine and portable water are available in all prisons, and that conditions are in line with domestic legislation and international standards. The aim is to ensure that authorities protect both the physical and mental integrity of inmates and that their security is not jeopardized at any time. With the assistance of the international community, including donor countries, the authorities can reform the prison sector along with the whole criminal justice system. But will they? Amnesty are doing something about it and through fundraising, petitioning, campaigning and raising awareness, so can we. We have an amazing opportunity here in Exeter to improve the lives of countless prisoners by being part of a movement that could ensure that prison reform is a practical realisation in Chad. Let’s use that opportunity to make a difference and do something that we can be really proud of.