Contributor(s)civil society organisations, independent experts


Congolese prisons are among the most overpopulated in the world, with an occupancy rate of 313% in 2020. In the remand prisons of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, this rate exceeds 600%. This situation is primarily due to the excessive use of remand detention, the dilapidation of prison buildings and the lack of resources allocated to the prison service.

Police stations serve as de facto detention centres, holding many people awaiting trial for several months. As they are not subject to prison legislation, they are not monitored by prison authorities. The number of people held in such custody is unknown. Civil society organisations recount numerous cases of arbitrary detention and harassment of certain sections of the population. Impoverished youth have reportedly been subject to arbitrary arrests under the pretext of responding to a public feeling of insecurity, influenced by urban violence and the rise of “black babies”. This term refers to groups of young people, aged 13 to 30, accused of acts of violence.

Cases of torture, violence and ill-treatment against prisoners have also been reported, in police stations in particular. Congo does not have a national preventive mechanism in place to prevent torture. Existing provisions do not allow prisoners to file complaints against the prison service.

Congo does not have any women’s prisons. Female prisoners are held in separate units or cells in men’s prisons. Civil society organisations report that women are often victims of sexual abuse committed by other prisoners or by staff members. Minors do not have dedicated juvenile facilities, either. Boys and girls are sometimes mixed in with adults. Some organisations have encountered difficulties in assisting minors, as the prison service does not grant them the necessary authorisations to enter the prisons.

Most prisoners sleep on the floor, on boxes or tattered mattresses. What little bedding is available is infested with parasites and is often a source of conflict. Access to basic equipment such as beds and mosquito nets is only available to those who can pay. In the remand prisons of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, “VIP” cells are available for prisoners with financial means and notoriety.

In 2021, the number of meals was limited to one per day in the country’s main prisons due to budgetary restrictions. Most prisoners depend on their families for access to food. Consequently, indigenous people are especially malnourished, because their families typically live far from urban centres. Access to water is sporadic and unreliable. Prisoners held in police stations are forced to relieve themselves in front of everyone in a communal bucket.

Prison staff is in short supply and lacks sufficient training. The prison service enlists military units to attempt to offset the shortage of officers. Certain responsibilities are delegated to prisoners. This results in an informal, parallel hierarchy, leads to abuses of power and furthers widespread corruption.

Very few activites are offered. In practice, the right to education is barely respected, and the illiteracy rate is high. All convicts are required to work. Opportunities for work are scarce, as are vocational training offerings.

Family visits last 15 minutes and take place in guarded communal spaces. In Brazzaville, civil society organisations report that relatives must pay surveillance officers to gain access to the visitation area. This remand prison does not have a telephone for prisoners, who can only call relatives in case of emergency, using a telephone reserved for the prison service.

The facilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire are the only prisons equipped with care units. However, they have insufficient equipment, medication, and healthcare personnel (general practitioners and specialists). Healthcare costs typically must be covered by prisoners or their families. Many deaths occur in detention. Measures to protect the prison population from malaria-carrying mosquitoes are also lacking.

A new correctional code took effect in April 2022. It is based on the main international texts on the subject of detention. Implementing its provisions will be a major challenge in the coming years.

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