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Inside some of Africa’s toughest prisons

Prisons are a form of retribution and rehabilitation for those who have committed crime, but unfortunately some are a haven for crime and where gangsters continue with their illegal operations. File photo: Brenton Geach/African News Agency (ANA)
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Prisons are meant to be a form of retribution and rehabilitation for those who have committed crimes, but many are often a haven where gangsters continue to run their illegal operations undeterred.

Confinement of up to twenty-four hours a day in overcrowded communal cells also means that very often vulnerable inmates have no choice but to do the bidding of powerful gang members just to survive.

In South Africa, statistics collected between 2015 and 2018 showed that more than 500 inmates died annually in the country’s 243 correctional centres, according to Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) spokesperson Emerantia Cupido.

Most of these deaths were from natural causes, but some were suicide and others were murder.

Pollsmoor Prison in the Western Cape has not only been identified as the most overcrowded in the country, but also one of the most dangerous in the world because it is frequently inhabited by notorious gang members.

The prison’s gangs include the 26s, 27s, and 28s, collectively referred to as “The Numbers”. They are affiliated with one another, each having its own hierarchy, leadership and function within the whole.

There have been several reports of prison guards being attacked by gang members.

In Nigeria, the Jimeta prison in Damaturu, Yobe state, is considered extremely dangerous because it often houses religious extremists and terrorists linked to Boko Haram, making it prone to violent attacks, according to Legit Nigeria news.

The online publication said that in 2012, 40 gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram attacked the prison in a bid to free some of their colleagues.

Besides being dangerous, most prisons in the populous country are known for overcrowding, hazardous living conditions, sub-standard medical care and very high death rates.

Gitarama prison in Rwanda is said to be one of the deadliest in the world, Zee News India reported.

According to the news channel, prisoners at Gitarama spend most of their time standing upright due to a shortage of space. They frequently indulge in deadly fights, with reports of some inmates eating the dead bodies of fellow inmates to stay alive, Zee News India added. Human rights organisations have protested against the deplorable conditions inside the jail, with little success.

Ankaful Maximum Security Prison in Ghana is considered one of the deadliest in the country. In 2016, Graphic online reported that an inmate had slashed off the penis of another after he tried to rape him.

Most prisons in Africa are not known for brutal killings among inmates, but are instead infamous for overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, inadequate medical care and guard brutality.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), these living conditions are exacerbated by deficits of good governance, funding and other resources.

In a 2019 report, the rights organisation said other barriers included state secrecy, a weak civil society and lack of public interest that inhibited the collection of reliable data.

“This veil of ignorance as to prison conditions merely fuels the neglect and abuse of Africa’s incarcerated,” HRW said.

African News Agency (ANA)