Senegal: improving living conditions for detainees

07-01-2010 Feature

As part of its work with Senegal's Ministry of Justice, the ICRC's regional delegation in Dakar held a seminar on detainee rights, hygiene and health from 4 to 6 November 2009.


  © ICRC    
During the seminar on detainee rights, hygiene and health organized in Dakar.    

What rights do detainees have? What can be done to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS in prisons? How should septic tanks be built? Prison administration officials in Senegal face questions such as these every day. Whether of an ethical or purely practical nature, they are not always easy to answer.

And for good reason. " Running a prison is a complex job. It's a closed system in which we have to make everything work, whether we're dealing with human rights, hygiene, health or reintegrating the job market, " said Cheikh Sadibou Doucouré, head of communications within the prison administration. " In certain areas our knowledge is fragmentary. "

To address these shortcomings, the ICRC's regional delegation and Senegal's prison administration put together a seminar on detainee rights, hygiene and health. The seminar, which was held at the national police academy in Dakar, provided 30 senior prison administration officials – wardens, regional inspectors, and division and office heads – with the opportunity to improve their skills and share their experiences.

  The ICRC and prison reform in Senegal

Since the ICRC began working with Senegal's Ministry of Justice in 1996, it has cooperated periodically with the prison administration. In 2009, the ICRC visited five detention centres in the country, providing material assistance in certain cases.   The seminar held in November 2009 added a stone to the edifice. Christophe Martin, the head of the ICRC's regional delegation in Dakar, said in his opening remarks: "The ICRC welcomes and supports the implementation of prison administration reform," which he considers "essential for improving the living conditions of detainees and the working conditions of the prison administration's staff."   The prison administration is undergoing profound change under the Justice Sector Programme, which was launched in 2004. The reform measures, approved on 20 July 2009, are aimed at modernizing the IT system, building additional prisons and hiring new staff.    

Presentations were made on the following topics: the ICRC's work in Africa, principles governing the treatment of detainees, and health and hygiene in prison. These presentations, together with a number of films, were accompanied by discussions among the participants.

In the presence of experts from the prison administration, the Dakar hygiene office and the ICRC's regional delegation, the participants openly described their working conditions and the challenges that they face relative to prison management in general and to health issues more specifically.

 Widespread health problems  

" Our main concern is the treatment and evacuation of wastewater, " said Yahya Dieye, the warden of Ziguinchor prison. An isolated case? Not really. According to official figures, in 1960 Senegal had 35 prisons and 3,000 detainees despite a capacity of only 2,000. Today there are 37 prisons and 7,500 detainees. This overcrowding has led to widespread problems in the areas of wastewater evacuation, hygiene and health.

" Sometimes our staff gets discouraged, " said Yoro Coulibaly, head of the regional inspection office for Saint-Louis and Louga. " Still, we realize that we don't always need additional resources to resolve certain problems. Consider the problem of septic tanks, which all the prisons have to deal with. Now I am able to say'Look, this is how they need to be built and cleaned'. "

Apart from technical questions, health issu es such as voluntary HIV/AIDS screening and the distribution of condoms in prison gave rise to lively debate. Like most participants, Agnès Ndiogoye, the warden at the Liberté 6 women's prison in Dakar, said that she was " against distributing condoms in prison, " while acknowledging that " being aware of what happens elsewhere, in Africa and around the world, helps us improve. "

At the end of the three-day seminar, the participants evaluated the situation at their respective prisons and submitted a detailed list of needs to the prison administration. These documents will provide guidelines for reforming the penitentiary system.