BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
What rights should prisoners have?
Prisoners at a Kenyan prison
Many African prisoners live in overcrowded condition
Prison reform in Africa is under discussion this week at a meeting of prison commissioners and human rights groups in Kenya.

Many prisoners on the continent live in overcrowded cells, with few clothes and often relying on relatives for food.

While prison rape - leading to the spread of HIV/Aids - and gang culture can make life behind bars a scary prospect.

Reformers say jail should not just be about punishment, but about retraining and rehabilitating prisoners.

What do you think a prisoner's rights should be? Should governments invest more in their prison systems to ensure prisoners get three meals a day and a chance to retrain for their future? Or would this not be a harsh enough deterrent for would-be offenders? What can be done to clamp down on the culture of rape in jails? Should children be released from the continent's prisons?

Send us your views. A selection of your comments will be published below and broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 13 August at 1700GMT.

Your comments:

Realistically, you can't have one without the other. People should pay for the crimes they commit but prison too should be a chance to change. In the case of African prisons, there needs to be systems that provide these opportunities and uphold people's human rights. Corruption in prisons is a big problem the world over and Africans have the opportunity to set a good example for the world now.
Ngum Ngafor, Manchester, England

The judicial system is not a profit making trade but rather a system to dispense justice in society
Ibrahim DS Mansaray, Freetown

Prisoners of all sorts deserve prison rights since they are human beings. Despite the fact they are law breakers and the same law applied to jail them with the intention of correcting their mistakes should not meaning they deserve no right to protect them. Maltreatment of prisoners accounts for fuelling wars in Africa because no serious attention is paid to develop and follow strictly positive corrective measures for prisoners serving jail sentences.

For instance, in Sierra Leone, prisoners joined the then Revolutionary United Front [RUF] to destroy Freetown after the Padeba Maximum prisons were broken. If law offenders are properly care for by providing training opportunities, good food habits, more jail space, health facilities as well as recreational Africa will have less problems. But if the reason for detaining them is to use harsh treatment then Africa will continue to have more criminals.

Overcrowding leads to spread of diseases such as Aids. Jails should be places to rehabilitate wrongdoers by preparing them to be good citizens after the crime. Sometimes, prisoners are jailed innocently especially when their social, economic and political status are not good. Children should be released from prisons in Africa. Africa should provide rehabilitation centres to re-direct the minds of children to avoid vengeance in society.

The judicial system is not a profit making trade but rather a system to dispense justice in society. It should not be used to victimize others in Africa as this tolerates corruption. Delay in the dispensation of just is dangerous to peace and stability in the continent if not one main factor responsible for African backwardness. Prisoners are human beings, they deserve proper treatment.
Ibrahim DS Mansaray, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Don't you think that prisons should force you never to want to go back there again?

Don't you think that prisons should force you never to want to go back there again? Don't you think that the public at large should see the police winning battles against violent youths on Trams and busses and stations and trains? Don't you think that a prison should be a terrible place? What I don't understand is if prisons were truly to become terrible places how could you then give someone a life sentence. That would be inhumane and contrary to human rights to let people suffer for so long. I think you have a dilemma here with this debate.

Government can ensure prisoners get two meals a day, not three because Africans at home do not eat three times a day.
Festus O, MBA, Enugu, Nigeria

Prisons are supposed to be reformation centres. But unfortunately in most African countries it is a centre for corrupting innocent inmates and refining the skills of criminals. Apart from the degrading conditions of most of our prisons, I am much more concerned with the so called detention centres for people awaiting trial. Can you imagine people awaiting trial for over five years?

In this case innocent people are locked up indefinitely with criminals and at the end of the day when these people are eventually freed what do you expect to see in their behaviour? The panacea to this quagmire is a complete over haul of the judiciary system which is almost in existent in most of our countries.
Israel Ambe Ayongwa, Bamenda, Cameroon

They chose to commit those crimes and to me they chose to go to prison
name here

Prisoners of all kinds and those who are truly and honestly found guilty should not have any rights at all because we are what we eat. Therefore, they chose to commit those crimes and to me they chose to go to prison knowing how harsh life can be in prison. Governments need to take care of the suffering and homeless people first and then maybe start thinking about improving services in prison.
Tanda Gumbo, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

In the words of Mohandas Gandhi: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." Although criminals should be adequately punished for whatever crimes they commit, the punishment should not be being the victim of another crime. Prison time should suffice, the violence in prison does not increase the punishment it merely complicates the issue and increases crime with gangs leading retaliatory strikes.
Cristina Maria, USA

I would not say that children should be released from the continent's prisons and though many would think this to be harsh, I am sure that there are many who would agree. Children today (by choice or pressure from adults) are capable of a great deal of atrocities. However, it would be more humane to have them in a juvenile detention centre versus prison with older criminals. Additionally, if we go by way of human rights, it should be mandatory to feed prisoners in a timely manner.

I'm not talking about gourmet food but edible and nutritional or we would be faced with starvation and death, which is not the point of having laws and an effective and operational prison system. Who is to say whether someone should live or die, and condemn all prisoners to that? Also, since we are usually forced to live amongst convicts and such I do think that it is beneficial for governments to invest in training people in prisons as to avoid straining the resources of the society, and us having to shoulder the responsibility of paying taxes to support them as unemployed members of society!

As for the culture of rape, I don't think there is much that can be done other than attempting to keep prisoners segregated according to their physique, aggressiveness level, sexuality and such to avoid having certain aggressors and victims sharing space and increasing the likelihood of rapes etc.
SIT, Ethiopian in USA

Training and education should be offered to those who commit less heinous crimes and are serving a lesser sentence
Omorodion Osula, Boston

Prisoners should have some rights. The government can provide them with basic necessities like clothes, three meals a day and personal hygiene material. Training and education should be offered to those who commit less heinous crimes and are serving a lesser sentence. After their release from the prison system, those who have been successfully trained should be given a loan to start their trade.

This will help to prevent them from committing crime again. In order to clamp down on the culture of rape in jails, prisoners should be enlightened about its dangers. Counsellors should be available at all times to counsel the new and old intakes. Those who are raped should be encouraged to report it immediately without delay to the prison authorities for prompt medical attention.

The government should endeavour to provide jobs for the youths and establish vocational training centres to train those who are not interested in formal education. This will help to stem anti-social vices in the society. As for the release of children, their offence will determine their release from the penitentiary system. Some children are as worse as adult criminals.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

I think governments should give prisoners a chance to retrain for the future since that may help them to be more responsible when they are released. When they are not given the chance to retrain, they might come out as more hardened criminals. We should also not forget the fact that some go to prison because they did not get lawyers to represent them and hence, justice was not done. Punishment should be centred on reforming the criminal (criminal centred) not crime centred.
Albert, Accra

I believe it should be first of all a punishment but it should be a punishment which reforms and rehabilitate the person. If you enter the army the training punishes you but it reforms and changes your life. The same with practising Martial Arts. Offenders should be punished but we should try and make them better people during their punishment.
Francis Bernard Kwegyir-Afful, Accra, Ghana

Prison is a place where criminals learn more about proper behaviour. But in Africa, conversely prisoners commit crime in a prison like rape and others. This is because of the bad conditions of the prisons. Therefore, specially prisons which are found in Africa should improve the handling of the prisoners. The officials also should take into consideration the human right principles. The prisoners are also human beings.
Daniel Mamo, Addis Ababa

Although I personally prefer rehabilitation I wouldn't strongly object punishment provided the imprisonment was fair at the first place. In my country Ethiopia where the justice system works under direct control of the government, innocent people can be jailed while criminals might serve as top government officials. Therefore, it is a complex issue directly linked with the prevailing social system of the country.
Getahun, Ethiopia

We can't ignore the issue by simply saying "Don't do the crime if you can't do the timeż. We have to realize that many of the prisoners are minor offenders and from my experience sizable amount of them are innocent. If possible giving them better accommodations would be good, but that is not possible in many African countries because of economical problems. So, until the economic problems of African countries are alleviated the problem will persist.
Samuel Zewdie, MN, USA

Human beings should be treated with dignity. Personally, I do not have confidence in the African judicial system. The police will take side if the money is good, your lawyer will work against you for money, and judges do take bribes and are very corrupt. Therefore, there are many innocent people in the prison systems while many hardcore criminals are walking free on the streets. Their prisons are congested because the system itself like education and health systems is broken.
Ola, USA

Rehabilitating prisoners should be a privilege accorded to those who demonstrate a genuine willingness to reform. Otherwise i would suggest a hardline approach to habitual criminals who violate other citizens right to live without the fear of being victimised.
Saied, Brandon, Canada

A prisoner's rights should be the right to a clean, safe, and habitable environment. Prisoners should also have a right to eat (2 or 3) times a day depending on availability of resources. Prisoners should have a right to an education that caters rehabilitation. In the case of Africa, prison officials and politicians need to undergo training and learn how to manage prison human resources to grow their own food, clean their environment, and build better prisons. Africa and the Africans need to start taking charge of their own affairs to better their conditions. This does not require lots of dollars. Effective and diligent management, with the right attitude will get this job done.
J. Achaha, Juba, Sudan

African government must reform jail cells in order to serve the right of prisoners. Many inmate die simply every year due to poor care.
Pal Gatkuoth Deng, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Prisoners? Rights? No. Prison should not be a desirable place. It should be so horrific that anyone intent on committing a crime thinks twice. Prison should strike fear into the hearts of would-be criminals. Of course, this assumes that the justice system is so good that innocents are never convicted by mistake. This is difficult, but not impossible. Prison should be a place of regret.
Peter Wanyonyi, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Prison systems in Africa, that are based on the western model, are hopelessly ineffective. What is the deterrent in giving a village thief three square meals a day and a place to stay? The western concept of warehousing criminals in an institution where they are exposed to more sophisticated like minded criminal-types is a sick joke. Invariably, novice criminals end up acquiring more skills to help refine their criminal craft. They true criminals are never deterred. Africans should strongly consider going back to the pre-colonial model of swift and proportionate justice. Specifically, criminals should be given timely harsh punishment for their crimes, with the type of punishment measured to be commensurate with the crime. For example, convicted rapists should be locked up just long enough for their castration to be carried out. Once medical professional have satisfied that they have been effectively dismembered then they can released to society to work and pay the victim a certain amount of money for the duration consistent with the circumstances surrounding the crime. Convicted wife beaters should be flogged by female justice officers in a public place and then assigned to do manual labour at a facility that takes care of abused women, wearing a pink uniform.
Sam Nyambi, Cameroonian in Cincinnati, USA

It's really very sad the way offenders are being treated in most of the African Countries. I believe strongly that Prisons should be a place where offenders should be retained and be rehabilitated and not a common room where they should be packed, tortured and abandoned. The Prison systems in Africa should for the sake of humanity be reformed.
Joseph Akinremi, UK/Nigeria

Prisoners convicted of violent crime like murder should have no rights whatsoever. That is the same judgement they meted out to their victims who were denied the right to live.
Alex Ashu, The Hague, The Netherlands

The government should create more jobs so as to reduce the rate of crime in the country
Mohammed Jan, Mombasa Kenya

Governments need to provide sufficient services and facilities to prisoners because harsh conditions at times might lead them to homosexual behaviour
Gatsinzi Emmanuel, Kigali, Rwanda

Making prison a luxurious place to live with three meals a day while those outside have nothing to eat will be encouraging crime though it seems to be an unrealistic proposition looking at the current situation of famine threat in many African countries. Regroup prisoners according to the degree of offence, educate first the prison officers on how to handle certain cases, about the right of the prisoners, pay them well and the culture of rape will be solved.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

I think prison should be about both punishment and rehabilitation. I think in the West, we have downplayed, if not removed altogether, the idea that criminals should be punished. Instead we have treated them as victims themselves, almost to the point of refusing to accept that they have any responsibility for their crimes.
James, Solihull, United Kingdom

Your E-mail address
Town & Country

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Kenya prison conditions slammed
29 Sep 04 |  Africa
Inside Kenya's 'worst' prison
04 Mar 03 |  Africa
Kenyan prisoners 'to have sex'
26 Feb 03 |  Africa



Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific