Contributor(s)The Voice of the Forgotten

The penitentiary system

There are nine prisons in Gabon, which all date from colonial times. The prisons have had little in the way of renovation and are in serious disrepair. None of the prisons meet international standards.   

The biggest prisons are those at Libreville, Port-Gentil and Franceville. The prisons are divided into wings, each with several cells. The prison at Libreville has one wing for women and another for state employees. In the remaining sections of the prison, pre-trial and convicted male prisoners are held together. Dominant prisoners often have the power to decide which prisoner is assigned to which wing.   

The prison at Franceville has a bar built by the prisoners in a carpentry workshop. It is reserved for people outside the prison and for prison staff.   

The Ministry of Justice started building a new prison at Libreville in 2013. At the time of writing, the building had not been completed, with the administration citing delays due to the recent fall in oil prices.

The Ministry of Justice is in charge of prison administration. The prison service is understaffed, with eight prison officers supervising 373 prisoners in Port-Gentil prison. Prison officers do not have the level of training required to effectively manage the prison or respect prisoner human rights.  

Recently, the prison administration began recruiting staff based on a competitive exam aimed at holders of a baccalauréat (equivalent to A levels), a BEPC (equivalent to GCSE) or a CAP (a vocational training certificate).   

Prison officers rarely go inside the wings and internal management of prisons is left to prisoners. A hierarchical system divides them into wing ‘chiefs’ and cell ‘chiefs’, a position most often won by force. These chiefs (known as maires), assign kitchen and maintenance duties, including emptying of the sceptic tank, to their fellow prisoners.