Tag Archives: prison

Chad Prison Conditions: a Deathly State of Affairs


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.




Out of Sight, Out of Mind?


Speaking at Greenbelt festival in August, former prisoner, journalist and writer Erwin James delivered a challenging and thought provoking talk on his experience of life inside and reflections on UK penal system.

Key to Erwin’s message was a call for increased public awareness and involvement. Highlighting the tendency of to publicise atrocities while hiding from the challenge of rehabilitation, Erwin stressed how sentences rarely equate to life and therefore preparing prisoners for life outside of prison need be of pressing concern to us all. Former convicts are our future neighbours; who do we want living next door?

Statistics of post-prison re-offence are widely available as are figures showing the extent of overcrowding. Both of this point to the urgency of public debate over the purpose and practice of prison, and the need to buck the trend of repeat offending.

Erwin’s talk captivated the audience as he drew on personal experience of life behind bars and from his post-prison involvement in reform of the penal system. Following his mother’s death while he was aged seven, Erwin was sleeping rough to escape from his abusive father when he received his first criminal conviction aged ten.  After being caught breaking into a sweet shop Erwin was taken into care where he stayed till 15. Erwin spoke of persistent knocks to his self worth giving an account of when he pleaded to the policeman not to tell his father as, ‘he will kill me’, to which the policeman responded, ‘but you deserve to be dead’.

Erwin meeting former Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke

On leaving care Erwin drifted from sofa to sofa, relying on extended relations and shifting between various precarious jobs. He often ending up sleeping rough and became increasingly involved in petty and occasionally violent crime. His life on the periphery ricocheted from one disaster to the next until he was eventually sentenced for murder.

Erwin’s well balanced yet critical account of life behind bars highlighted both the problems and the potential in the British penal system. Highly aware that his own course through prison was the exception not the norm, Erwin spoke of how in 1984 he faced a life sentence as an uneducated, troubled and disenfranchised individual yet left prison in 2004 as both a graduate and a journalist. Erwin’s first article was published in The Independent in 1994, the start to a career which was simultaneously encouraged and discouraged by prison officers. Overcoming multiple setbacks, by 2000 Erwin was publishing a weekly column in The Guardian. A collection of these came to form his first book, A Life Inside: A Prisoner’s Notebook, published in 2003. Yet while Erwin was able to turn his life around above and beyond his own expectations, the same cannot be said for the majority of his fellow inmates. Erwin gave accounts of many cases of suicide he’d seen during his 20 years inside, and the difficulties of building the self worth so critical to cultivating a life after prison. For Erwin, acting as prison scribe gave him a positive role in his harsh environment and an outlet for his creativity. For many others, overcoming the weight of negative formative experiences and the reality of prison life was less of a possibility.

What can prisons do to help rehabilitate and support their inmates? 

Following his release in 2004 Erwin has dedicated his time to penal reform working as a trustee for the Prison Reform Trust and The Alternatives to Violence Project Britain, and as a patron to the charities CREATE, Blue Sky and The Reader Organisation.

Listening to Erwin’s captivating speech left me challenged to engage with these questions both so relevant yet so often eclipsed from our daily lives. Eager to find out more, I purchased A Life Inside which has proved an equally engaging read that I would well recommend.

Bronwen Moore

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