Contributor(s)Avocats sans frontières / independent experts


Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)



The authorities publish official statistics on prison population

on an irregular basis

The prison service has a computerised record keeping system


The DGPR has a non-centralised digital census system. The office of the registry of the court and the administrations of each prison facility, or each wing (‘pavillon’1), keeps a custody registry. These registries contain information pertaining to a facility’s operation: records of prisoner arrivals; disciplinary proceedings; search records; and transfer records. They also register certain aspects of everyday operations: information regarding food provisions and access to medical treatment, education, and work. Some facilities have developed special software to update their registries.2

  1. In Tunisia, this term refers to the different sections of a prison. 

  2. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 105. 

Total number of prisoners



Variation in the number of prisoners

decrease of 3%

In January 2015, there were 23,816 incarcerated people.

Variation in the incarceration rate


In 2009, the incarceration rate was 250 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Number of admissions


/ Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 17.

Prison density

126.4 %


The prisons hold 22,964 persons in spaces meant for 19,382. Reports published by some organisations mention occupation rates of up to 300% in certain facilities.

  • The President of the National Body for the Prevention of Torture stated that all prisons in Tunisia, with the exception of Oudhna Prison, are overcrowded.

    / L'Économiste Maghrébin

Variation in the prison density


In 2019, the prison occupancy rate was 122%.

/ Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 90.

Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities


Overcrowding affects all types of prison facilities.

A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding


“The Committee Against Torture has urged Tunisian authorities to significantly reduce prison overcrowding via greater use of alternatives to imprisonment such as suspended sentences for first-time offenders and certain minor offences, as well as the use of alternatives to pre-trial detention”.1

  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 90. 

Political Prisoners:

Tunisian law does not recognise a unique status for political prisoners. Dissidents are charged with infractions against ‘moral principles’, ‘public morality’, or ‘public decency’. These people are not systematically separated from those charged under common law. Prisoners who once occupied political posts or important government positions are held in specific wings.

Name of authority in charge of the prison service

Ministry of Justice

Prisons are administered by the Directorate General of Prisons and Rehabilitation (DGPR).

The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully


All prisons are administered by the central management of the DGPR. The DGPR consists of several divisions1:

  • Executive Directorate
  • Inspection of Prison Services
  • Department of Prison Units
  • Department of Security
  • Department of Support Services
  • Department for Criminal Cases
  • Department of Rehabilitation and Discharge
  • Health Division

The Director of the DGPR is appointed by the Minister of Justice.

  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 35. 

There are three categories of prison facilities (Article 3):

  • Prisons for prisoners awaiting trial
  • Prisons for those who are convicted.
  • Semi-open prisons, for those convicted of misdemeanours. These facilities are authorised to undertake agricultural work

This system of classification is merely administrative. In reality, people awaiting trial and those who have been convicted are not separated.

Total number of prison facilities


Facilities are organised into three categories according to capacity.


Total official capacity of the prison facilities


/ Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 37-39.

In January 2019, the country had 685 places in facilities for women. Tunisia’s housing stock includes a majority of dilapidated establishments inherited from the colonial period. They are often damp, unhealthy former colonial farms that suffered extensive damage during the 2011 revolutionary uprisings.

The Tunisian government is undertaking a programme to rebuild and modernise the infrastructure with the support of international players:

  • damaged prisons are being renovated
  • the capacity of prisons in Sfax, Mahdia, Messadine, Monastir, Gabès, Mornaguia and Borj El Amri is being increased
  • a semi-open prison with a capacity of 500 inmates will be inaugurated in Oudhna in February 2020.

These new buildings provide for the collective confinement of prisoners in rooms. There is little space for walks, work or socio-educational activities.

Prison facilities are classified according to their capacity (Prisons Act of 2001, article 15):

  • Category A: more than 4000 places
  • Category B: between 1000 and 4000 places
  • Category C: less than 1000 places

Mornaguia prison, which is close to the capital, is the biggest in the country. As of 1 January 2019, 6,039 people are incarcerated there in a facility with 5,130 places. Prisoners awaiting trial account for 76% of this figure.1 Mornaguia is the only prison in category A.

There are six prison facilities in category B and 20 in category C.

Eddir prison is the smallest with 106 places.

  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 37. 

Prison facilities are accessible by public transport

some facilities

As of 2019, most of Tunisia’s prison facilities are dilapidated buildings dating back to the colonial period. They are often humid and unsanitary old colonial structures that suffered significant damage during the 2011 revolutionary uprising: With the support of international actors, the Tunisian government is undertaking a reconstruction and modernisation programme with the following goals1:

  • The renovation of damaged facilities
  • An increase in the capacity of the prisons at Sfax, Mahdia, Messadine, Monastir, Gabès, Mornaguia and Borj El Amri
  • The opening of a new semi-open facility with a capacity of 500 places in February 2020
  • The opening of a new facility in 2020 in the city of Béja
  • Renovation works at the Bourj al-Roumi prison, including 1000 new places, to be completed in 2021

With the completion of these construction works, prisoners are to be housed together in barracks. Space in which to walk, work, or engage in social and educational activities will remain limited.

Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)


The number of librarians stands at 35.

The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)


Many prison staff are union members, mainly with the National Union of Syndicates of Tunisian Security Forces (Syndicat national des forces intérieures). Their claims mainly concern the salaries deemed insufficient and precarious working conditions. The unions condemn severe understaffing.

Prison officers undertake nine months of training at the National School for Prisons and Rehabilitation (École nationale des prisons et de la rehabilitation), followed by a year-long placement at a prison facility. Candidates must have attained at least a baccalauréat (high school diploma). The training consists of a safety unit (military training, weapon handling, and people management) and a theoretical unit (criminal law and human rights).

DGPR officers and administrative staff must have obtained education to the level of bac+2 (equivalent to an associate’s degree). Their training program is one year long.

Staff wages are not in line with the cost of living and living conditions.

The prison management appoints a person in charge among the prisoners in each dormitory. This person (called a cabrane) is responsible for maintaining order in their dormitory of up to 100 people. They are in charge of distributing beds and organising cleaning rosters, the commissary, and medical appointments, among other duties. “Prison guards rarely enter the dormitories”.1
The ‘cabrane’ also serves as the intermediary between the incarcerated population and the prison staff (relaying daily headcount figures, reporting incidents, and collecting other information). The power granted by the administration to these dormitory supervisors is at the source of many abuses.

  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 53.