Contributor(s)Prison Insider

Specific population

The prison administration publishes data every three years.

There were 27,997 persons incarcerated in 2016. The incarceration rate is 115 per 100,000 inhabitants (of a population of 24 million).

The number of inmates has increased since 2002. The incarceration rate, on the other hand, has decreased since 2005, because population growth is greater than the growth in the number of people incarcerated.

The overall occupancy rate in 2016 was 164.7%. It varies, however, from one prison to another. Some prisons have very high occupancy rates. Douala prison, designed to hold 800 people, holds 5,000, representing an occupancy rate of 625%. Yaoundé Central Prison had an occupancy rate of 400% in 2016. The central prison at Maroua generally holds more than 200% of its capacity.

Prisons in English-speaking areas (the northwest) have lower occupancy rates, generally below 100% in the 2010s.

Some blocks in the same prison may be more overpopulated than others. Blocks 8 and 9 of Yaoundé Central Prison, for example, holds the largest number of inmates.

In January 2016, 55.8% of inmates were being held in pretrial detention due to the inefficiency of the justice system. Pretrial periods often exceed the legally permissible duration 1. Defendants are not detained separately from convicts. Much of the population of many detention centers, like the one in Maroua, is awaiting trial.

Several factors influence the decision about which prison and which prison block will hold an inmate. At Douala Central Prison, for example, people are separated according to certain categories: minors or adults, men or women, elderly people, those on death row or suffering from contagious disease, etc.

Prisoners are mostly from underprivileged groups within society.

  1. Article 221 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states: “The length of pre-trial detention shall be fixed by the Examining Magistrate in the warrant. It cannot exceed six (6) months. However, it may be extended by reasoned order, to not more than twelve (12) months in the case of a crime and six (6) months in the case of an offence.” 

Pre-trial detainees

55.8 %

January 2016 - World Prison Brief

As of 31 December 2015, there were 697 female detainees (2.5% of the prison population). 61% of female detainees are awaiting trial 1.

The law allows for the separation of incarcerated men and women. Two facilities are exclusively reserved for women. However, contact between the sexes occurs, including sexual transactions and, no doubt, violence.

Incarcerated women struggle to maintain family ties. They usually receive fewer visits than men.

Many women in prison are single mothers: 80% have at least one child. They continue to be a source of income for the home, despite their detention. Many women make objects to sell. This allows them to send money to their families.

Women do not benefit from prison conditions adapted to meet their specific needs. Gaelle, imprisoned (in French) at the Douala Central Prison in 2016, recounts that during her period, she had to use toilet paper as sanitary protection. She had to change the paper at least six times per day.

Prison authorities rarely provide for the increased nutritional needs of pregnant and breast-feeding women. Newborns are sometimes delivered in prison under precarious hygiene conditions. Not all attending staff are qualified to perform a delivery.

Infants can stay with their mothers up to 18 months. They are entitled to medical care, water and food. Staff of the NGO Relais Enfants-Parents take infants to the hospital for primary health care once a month.

Due to overpopulation, mothers and children must share their cell with other adults, sometimes men. They are vulnerable to abuse.

  1. Ministry of Justice, “[2015 Report of the Ministry of Justice on the state of human rights in Cameroon]( (in French only), October 2016, p. 353. 

Female prisoners

2.5 %

/ Ministry of Justice

Issues of juvenile justice are the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The age of criminal responsibility is 12 years. The age of criminal liability is 18 years. Children under the age of 12 are regularly detained. Cases of detention of children under the age of five have been reported (see section “Arbitrary Detention”).

As of 31 December 2015, there were 823 minors in detention. 82.4% of them were awaiting trial. The average length of pretrial detention is 199.2 days and may be up to two years (in French).

Minors and adults are often housed separately, in accordance with the Criminal Code. Some facilities exclusively hold minors. Minors may also be placed in juvenile quarters inside adult facilities. Interaction with adults may occur, especially in the corridors. This open circulation permits sex trafficking and physical and sexual abuse to occur.

The Code of Criminal Procedure does not provide for an alternative measure to deprivation of liberty for minors in conflict with the law. Minors do not receive support once released. Their detention system is similar to that of adults. They are removed from the education system (in French). In some prisons, external partners provide academic training to offset this removal. At Yaoundé Central Prison, NGOs organize outings and provide social or administrative support.

Juvenile prisoners

2.9 %

/ Ministry of Justice

Foreign nationals represented 3.1% of the prison population in 2014. 1,511 (5.4%) foreign nationals were incarcerated in Cameroon as of 31 December 2015. They come from neighboring countries (e.g., Chad, Central African Republic). Foreigners are often cut off from their loved ones. In the far north, they may receive similar treatment to Boko Haram fighters.

Foreign prisoners

5.4 %

/ Ministry of Justice

Under the Criminal Code, sex between people of the same sex is punishable by six months to five years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 CFA francs (30 to 300 euros) 1.

Transsexuality and intersexuality are unrecognized and repressed.

In September 2014, a man received a prison sentence for homosexuality. The reasons given (in French) were his profession as a barber, and his penchant for Baileys, a “drink for girls”.

Threats against people who identify as LGBTIQ have increased since 2010 (in French).

Defenders of the rights of LGBTIQ people are routinely subject to restrictions on their daily activities, as well as blackmail and persecution, including arbitrary detention and violent death.

  1. The average monthly salary in Cameroon is around 80 euros. 

Journalists are regularly detained in the name of fighting Boko Haram.

Simon Ateba, a Cameroonian journalist, was arrested 28 August 2015, at Minawao refugee camp (in French), in the north of the country. He was detained for four days by the police. Ateba, who was investigating the living conditions of Nigerian refugees, was accused of espionage on behalf of Boko Haram.

Ahmed Abba, a Radio France International correspondent, was arrested in Maroua on 30 July 2015 (in French). He was detained, incommunicado, for more than three months (in French). He was sentenced to ten years in prison by the Yaoundé Military Court for failure to report and laundering of the proceeds of a terrorist act.

Operation “Epervier” has been in place since 2006 to fight corruption. It has led to the incarceration of many leaders and politicians. Some of these leaders and politicians denounce the fight against corruption, as it has shut them out of elections, including for the presidency.

Older people do not receive special treatment in prison.

They are sometimes separated from the rest of the prison population or placed in a dedicated room in an overcrowded area.

People with intellectual disabilities are most often held separately from other prisoners. They are not always placed in dedicated facilities due to lack of space. In Yaoundé Central Prison, an old laundry room has been converted into an area for so-called “crazy” people.

Prisons are not adapted to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities.