Drinking water is free and available in all areas of the facilities
Drinking water in the dormitories is often unavailable due to water cuts. Prison staff then turn to tanks, and prisoners can buy bottled mineral water from the commissary.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 136. ↩
Fathi Jarray, Chairman of the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (INPT), pointed out the health protocol violations in prisons. The nutritional standards and hygienic conditions were deplorable, which included improper ventilation and lack of drinking water during heat waves. The authorities were concerned about the rapid spread of the coronavirus due to the low number of vaccinated individuals and the poor health conditions.
Prisoners suffered from the excessive heat of July and August. Ventilation was inadequate and prisoners had no water, especially at night after the doors are closed.
Variation in the number of prisoners
decrease of 3%
In January 2015, there were 23,816 incarcerated people.
The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced the prison population by 37% between mid-March and the end of April 2021. The incarceration rate rose again with the massive influx of remand prisoners, those being charged with minor offences or the low rate of non-custodial sentences.
Fifteen human rights organizations requested the “drastic reduction of the number of prisoners.” The organization suggests limiting the use of police and remands in custody. They also advocate the increase of releases on parole and the maintenance of ties between prisoners and their loved ones within health protection measures.
>> Prison Insider has been documenting measures taken and events observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, on the basis of the information available (still ongoing).
A study published by the Sanad Centre- OMCT in 2016 reported that a quarter of cases of torture or abuse take place in prisons. This number is the same for cases identified in police custody. Persons accused of terrorism are particularly vulnerable to torture or abuse. They can be held in police custody for up to 15 days. Lawyers can be barred from visiting them for up to a maximum of 48 hours.
Lawyers without Borders report that “prison overpopulation is the main cause of prison conditions that fail to meet international standards”1. In this way, overpopulation constitutes a form of abuse.
Lawyers without Borders, “Lutter contre la surpopulation carcérale en Tunisie”, September 2019, p 2. ↩
In their latest report, the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (INPT) described the harsh conditions in correctional facilities. They reported cases of abuse, torture or arbitrary detention against detainees.
At Borj El Amri prison, a prisoner was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. A medical examination completed by a private clinic reported “the introduction of an object in a sensitive area of his body” which resulted in “lesions and bruising similar to haemorrhoid symptoms”. Prison authorities refute allegations of torture.
Police officers assaulted a man after his arrest, burning parts of his body during an interrogation. He was transferred to the hospital, where one of his testicles had to be removed. A complaint has been lodged.
The prison service offers activities to prisoners
in some facilities
The Prisons Act allows access to number of activities:
- A daily walk of at least one hour
- The library
- Cultural and sporting activities
- Paid work (only for convicted prisoners)
In practice, the activities take place very infrequently. Reasons given include lack of financial resources, overcrowding and strict security procedures. Only a small number of prisoners have access to the activities. Many accounts mention the use of corruption in order to benefit from them.
For the seventh consecutive year, the Carthage Film Festival (JCC) held some screenings inside prisons. The National Center for Cinema and Image, the prison administration and the World Organisation Against Torture were involved. The documentary film “Captains of Zaatari” had a screening in the gymnasium at the Oudhna. prison.
Number of death sentenced prisoners awaiting execution
At the time of the 2011 revolution, almost all prisoners sentenced to death had their sentenced commuted to life imprisonment.
According to the numbers obtained by the Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de Mort (CTCPM), women represented 6% of the total number of persons sentenced to death in Tunisia.
Prisoners are allowed to pass diplomas and entry examinations
The DGPR counts 1085 inmates with a vocational training certificate in 2018.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 153. ↩
Eleven students from the seven prisons of Mornaguia, Mornag, Le Kef, Kairouan, Messâadine, Siliana and Harboub took the baccalaureat examination.
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
Prison regulations are not always followed. Authorities did not inform families when one of their loved ones is arrested, nor told them where they were imprisoned. The NPM also reported that medical exams were not offered.
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
In January 2019, the country had 685 places in facilities for women.
There were plans to build a new prison in Cap Bon to replace the squalid Mornaguia prison. Prison officials said they wanted to “guarantee that prison conditions respect the dignity of prisoners and meet sanitary standards”.
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
The prison governor must immediately inform the judicial authorities and the DGPR central administration in the event of the death of a prisoner (article 43 of law of 14 May, 2001). The Inspection of Prison Services then conducts a preliminary internal investigation.
In the event of a prisoner dying in hospital, the Health Division and Administration of the Department for Criminal Cases are required to carry forward all of the prisoner’s medical records and any documents pertaining to their conditions of imprisonment to the Inspection of Health Services unit. (Administrative Note no.67, 18 May 2017).1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 222. ↩
An inmate at Sfax prison has passed away. The Tunisian Human Rights League spoke out against this death and stated that the prisoner, who was diabetic, had been deprived of insulin since his arrest. The Assembly of the People’s Representatives voted on 23 March 2021 to create a parliamentary commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding his death.
Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures
Mornaguia prison is the only one which has a pavilion with increased security and surveillance. People accused or convicted of terrorism are usually placed in this building. The other facilities place prisoners considered dangerous in isolation.
Borj Erroumi Prison is being modernised and expanded. The American State Department is financing the complex as part of the “programme to increase the capacity of the Tunisian prison system” that has been going on for the last several years. The purpose of the programme, among other things, is to “fight against the radicalising of the most dangerous prisoners”. The programme also includes plans to “renovate the wing reserved for particularly dangerous prisoners, by transforming ten shared cells into 70 cells, […] and building a new control room”. The Tunisian government planned to convert the facility into a museum, but the project was abandoned due to a growing number of inmates.
The statistical data published by the Ministry of Justice revealed an occupation rate of about 114%. The prisons were holding 22,964 persons in spaces meant for 19,382. Reports published by some organisations mention occupation rates of up to 300% in certain facilities.
People with tuberculosis are isolated from the rest of the prison population. They are placed in dedicated sections.
The authorities allocated seven new units for incoming prisoners. The head of the National Authority against Torture stated that health protocols were not respected in prisons. He pointed to the lack of distancing and mask wearing and said that the facilities had become a hotbed of infection due to transfers between courts and prisons.
The interim Minister of Justice stated that Uthna Prison had been chosen to receive all prisoners who would test positive in order to isolate them from the rest of the prison population.
Seven COVID-19 positive cases were reported on 28 March in the country’s prisons (two prisoners and five staff members). On 2 June, 143 other prisoners and 50 other staff members tested positive. On 29 June, an outbreak was discovered at Messaâdine prison, where a total of 292 prisoners and prison staff members tested positive.
The penal administration announced hygiene measure strengthening in prisons. The administration is planning for sterilization operations, the purchase of thermal cameras, and the creation of isolation cells. Newcomers are being examined in full before being placed in the cells. Special visiting rooms (allowing direct contact between prisoner and visitor) were suspended until further notice. The possibility of providing food parcels made by families (baskets) is limited. The administration is planning for the implementation of awareness and information campaigns for prisons and prison staff on appropriate preventive measures.
>> Prison Insider has been documenting measures taken and events observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, on the basis of the information available.
Number of deaths in custody
The prison administration spokesperson announced that seven prisoners hadve died from COVID-19 consequences since the beginning of the pandemic. The prisoners were all elderly and/or chronically ill.
Daily cost of meals per prisoner
Tunisian prisons lack equipment and medical staff. The country has about 15 state-qualified nurses working in prisons. The authorities call on 400 prison officers, trained for three months by the Military Medical School, to assist them.
There are also nursing assistants. Some of them are seconded from the civil service, while others are part of the prison’s staff. Prisoners may act as nursing assistants.[^manual]
The medical unit of Mornaguia prison has better infrastructure. The number of health personnel remains insufficient.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, new arrivals will be subject to a medical examination before entering the cells.