Daily life

As a general rule, cells are communal. The Rebeuss prison (in Dakar) contains 43 cells of varying sizes, spread over seven sections. Rooms are cramped. The largest are on average 50 m².

At Rebeuss, the ventilation system consists of six 50 cm² windows per cell and three air ducts. This is considered inadequate, given the high temperatures - reaching up to 50° - that characterize Senegal. Most walls are not insulated, letting in water and the cold in winter.

Cells designed for forty individuals house two, or even three, times that number of prisoners. Prisoners are often obliged to sleep one on top of the other in an arrangement they call pakétasse. They sleep on the bare ground or on iron panels fixed to the walls, with mats laid out on the panels. In the most overcrowded prisons, prisoners take turns sleeping.

According to the report published by the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (HCDH) and the Association of Senegalese Women Lawyers (AJS), only 16% of women prisoners have access to a mattress. A “VIP” section at Rebeuss, comprising six rooms (cells 38 to 43), houses prisoners with privileges. The cells hold a maximum of ten prisoners. They are furnished with beds and each inmate has his own fan. The sun’s heat is mitigated by a mango tree planted between Cells 42 and 43. Inmates can use a well-maintained, private courtyard1.

  1. Visite guidée : Dans les dédales de la prison de Rebeuss (Guided tour: In the maze of the Rebeuss prison)” on Seneweb.com, 22/09/2016 (only in French) 

The preparation and distribution of meals, which is the responsibility of the prison administration, are undertaken by a private catering company. A bakery, managed by the prisoners, operates at the prison camp Liberté VI. It supplies all the prisons in the Dakar region1.

The prison administration allots an average of 600 francs CFA (USD 0.90) per day per prisoner.

Meals are served inside the cells. The quantity and quality of the meals are not satisfactory. Prisoners receive two meals a day: a breakfast consisting of bread, milk, and coffee; and a main meal generally consisting of rice and fish. Some prisoners attest to having found stones and other debris in their rice2. In the prisons for female remand prisoners in Thiès and Tambaounda, the daily meal consists of an infusion of millet and water.

Families are permitted to bring food in order to make up the rest of the daily ration of food (parcels are systematically searched by guards with the aid of a spoon). This situation creates an inequality between prisoners sent to an institution near their family home and those who are far away.

  1. Sénégal : des prisonniers boulangers (Senegal: prisoner bakers)” on BBC Afrique, 27/10/2016 (only in French) 

  2. Long Pre-trial Detention Overcrowds Senegal Prisons” on Voa News, 11/11/2016 

One of the main hygiene problems, for both men and women, relates to the availability of only one bathroom in a cell occupied by tens, or even hundreds of prisoners. Women regularly suffer from urinary infections and other gynaecological problems because of this shared use. In some prisons, such as Vélingara (in the Kolda region), no bathroom facilities are installed in the cells.

Most pipework is in a poor state. Waste water accumulates in some areas, giving off a foul smell. Waste is not disposed of regularly. Vermin proliferate on this refuse.

Communal showers, which have no hot water, are in insufficient numbers; in the most overcrowded institutions, such as Rebeuss and Thiès, only one shower is available for hundreds of prisoners.
Personal hygiene products (soap, sanitary pads) are not distributed on a regular basis. At prison camp Liberté VI, up to a month can pass without prisoners receiving any soap. Prisoners are responsible for their own laundry. It is done in large sinks, outside the buildings.

Cell maintenance is carried out each morning by the occupants, under the supervision of cell representatives.

The healthcare service is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. Healthcare units located within institutions are poorly equipped.

Part of the daily allocation for prisoners, valued at CFA 1, 000, is reserved for healthcare.

Only the Rebeuss prison has a proper infirmary with two rooms equipped with metal-framed beds and fans.

Prisoners with serious illnesses are brought to the prison ward at the hospital in Dakar. Hospital care is free of charge. Prisons for remand prisoners located outside Dakar transfer sick prisoners to the nearest regional or county hospital. Prisoners with sufficient financial means have the option of being transferred abroad to receive the care of their choice.

Health workers are, for the most part, male nurses and nursing auxiliaries. Only four doctors make up the prison administration’s medical team. A midwife is a permanent member of the medical staff at the Liberté VI prison camp.

The principal illnesses are malaria and dermatological infections. Preventative measures are not rigorously practised. According to the HCDH and AJS report, less than half of the women interviewed owned a mosquito net. Female inmates suffer from gynaecological complaints, urinary infections, cancers of the uterus, and fibroids.

The prison administration supplies basic medicine. Relatives have to cover the cost of specific treatments. Local groups and NGOs provide treatments for tuberculosis and HIV.

No measures are taken regarding prisoners suffering from psychological problems. They do not receive any treatment and are not separated from the rest of the population.

Prisoners are permitted to leave their cells between 7am and 6:30pm. Roll call is generally at 7.30am and 12.15pm.

In Tambacounda - where temperatures are very high - prisoners remain in the yard during the entire day and return to their cells in the evening. The lower number of prisoners permits a more flexible security regime than in overcrowded prisons.

Football and wrestling are the main sporting activities practised at the Rebeuss prison. The institution has a football pitch, which is also used for wrestling.

A small number of women can take part in crochet workshops, sports, or walks.

In October 2016, a bakery was opened at the Liberté VI penal camp. Fourteen prisoners are employed there: some of them were formerly bakers, others have been trained on the job by their fellow prisoners. Apprentices will gain a certificate of competence at the end of their prison term. The bakery supplies bread every day to nearly 5,000 prisoners in eight prisons in the Dakar area. The project has been financed by the Ministry of Justice, the Coopération Française, and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

Training in carpentry, mechanics, blacksmithing, and dressmaking is offered in institutions for juveniles. However, the offer is limited, due to a lack of trained personnel, and few young people access these workshops.

The Rebeuss prison has a library of nearly 5,000 books.

Each cell has a television set. Programmes are accessible from morning until midnight during the week, and 24 hours a day on the weekend.

Prisoners may practise their religion freely. All prisons have a place of worship used by prisoners of different denominations.

Conferences about Islam are organised every three months at Rebeuss with the support of partner organizations. Discussion sessions and a choir are held every Wednesday for Catholic prisoners. A mass is organised by the chaplain of Dakar’s Cathedral every Saturday.

Prisoners can communicate their requests to the prison administration via their “cell representatives”. The latter are in regular contact with management and have access to a mobile telephone. Prisoners inform their representatives when they wish to place an order with the prison canteen.

Inmates at the Rebeuss prison regularly organize hunger strikes. The last one took place on 15 September, 2016. Prisoners criticized the excessive duration of pre-trial imprisonment, the quality of meals, and the privileges given to some fellow prisoners. Five days later, this collective movement degenerated into a mutiny in which nearly 600 prisoners took part. Prison guards intervened with tear gas. One of the prisoners, Ibrahim Mbow, died during a crush and ten others were injured1.

The inmates at Thiès Prison began a hunger strike the following day, in solidarity.

Amnesty International, RADDHO and the Y’en a marre (That’s enough) movement planned a rally in the Place de la Révolution in Dakar. This was banned by the authorities and did not take place.

  1. Sénégal : mutinerie à la prison de Rebeuss” on BBC Afrique, 21/09/2016 

People are systematically searched at the entrance to buildings.

Knives and other edged weapons circulate inside the institutions. They are generally made by prisoners from cutting implements. A general cell inspection at Rebeuss in 2016 prior to a visit by the Minister of Justice revealed the presence of these weapons and led to the seizure of knives and mobile telephones.

A cannabis trafficking network was broken up in 2016 at the Rebeuss prison. A group of guards and prisoners were working together to get the product inside and to sell it to prisoners. The perpetrators - officers and prisoners - were indicted.