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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 18:32 GMT
Why are prisons so overcrowded?
Overcrowded prison
Are we putting too many people in prison?

Recently the Nigerian government announced plans to free 25,000 inmates from its jails because of overcrowding.

Those given priority for release are the elderly, the sick, and those who have been awaiting trial for longer than they would have been sentenced for.

Overcrowding is a problem in prisons across the continent.

Is it time to reassess who should go to jail? What function should prisons have? Are they the answer to crime? Should they be a place of harsh punishment? Or somewhere where rehabilitation and training takes place?

This debate is now closed. Please read a selection of your comments below:

Your comments:

The sad picture of African prison as a means of crashing and torturing opponents is more evident in Ethiopia than anywhere else. Today more prison and detention centre have been built in Oromia region in particular where many young and old are kept for their political view. How many hospitals and schools have been built? God knows.
T Simie, Oromia, Ethiopia

The problem lies with the whole justice system in Africa. Why should suspects spend more than a year in prison before they are tried? Community service should also be introduced for people found guilty of lesser crimes such as shop lifting.
Moses Moses, Harare, Zimbabwe

Prisons are overcrowded because some people are wrongly imprisoned, court cases take too long and there has been no expansion on existing prisons, most of which were inherited from former colonial masters.
Anthony Musonda, Zambian, Munich, Germany

Once you've served a prison sentence, society ostracizes you
Hudson Kwendo, Maryland
While prisons in Africa are supposed to serve as rehabilitation centres, we know very well, that just like in the US, once you've served a prison sentence, society ostracizes you. The most important things that governments should work on programmes that help released prisoners fit back into society.
Hudson Kwendo, Maryland, USA

Many of the laws governing conviction for wrongdoers are out of date and the majority of prisoners may be there due to simple reasons which can be handled in local areas. Each African government should put up a system that assesses each case carefully before convicting the wrong doer. There should be centres of rehabilitation so that prisoners can go back home when it is assessed that they are no longer harmful. Another problem I find with African prisons is keeping prisoners in cells without making them productive.
Bernadette Ahembwe, Edinburgh, UK

I propose the building of new prisons. Most African countries still use the prisons left behind by the colonial masters some 40-odd years ago. This is the one area that can also be pushed to the private sector. Set up decent prisons and use cheap prison labour in exchange. A new thinking is required.
David Muchai, London UK

Suspects spend a very long time in prison without been sentenced for the crime they have allegedly committed
Peter Pablo Bainda, Sierra Leone
I think the poor judicial system in Africa is responsible for overcrowding in African prisons. The right to a speedy and fair trial is gradually fading away; suspects spend a very long time in prison without been sentenced for the crime they have allegedly committed. Prisons should serve as a place of counselling and reformation.
Peter Pablo Bainda, Freetown, Sierra Leone

The lack of adequate accommodation for prisoners mirrors the problems outside the prisons; and generally, African prisons serve to criminalise further the inmates, rather than helping to correct their behaviour for a fruitful life once their terms end.
Kofi Ellison, USA via Asuonwun, Ghana

How can you justify a citizen's imprisonment without trial for many years?
Bernard Imarhiagbe, UK
How can you justify a citizen's imprisonment without trial for many years? This is simply barbaric! The majority of the people in prisons in Nigeria should be freed without delay. Prison reform should be one of the priorities in the fight against corruption in Africa, in particular Nigeria!
Bernard Imarhiagbe, Nigerian in United Kingdom

In Africa prison seems to have become a place to punish the unfortunate occasional miscreant whose only crime was to help himself to a neighbour's goat. Prison must serve its purpose as a place of punishment and rehabilitation, although that alone is not the solution to crime.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

In Morocco the government doesn't consider prisoners to be normal people, but rather as offenders who should be punished hard. It would be a good idea to put Government officials in Moroccan jails for one day, so that they can see how inhuman the prisons are.
Moussa Aynan, Nador, Morocco

Holding people in prison who are not either an immediate danger to others or currently prolific offenders is a criminal waste of resources.
Anon, Maldon, Essex, England

A prison should be a correction facility and not a place of torture and mistreatment. Offenders of minor crimes should be given community service rather than confinement which is even costly to the taxpayers. It is ironical to lock up a chicken thief for two or more months and yet pay far more to maintain him in prison..
Grace Okeng (Mr), Brussels, Belgium

Prisons should primarily be a correction and adjustment facility. However, African prisons are basically used by governments to keep opposition and threats out of circulation; it is also common knowledge that our prisons are meant for would be presidents.
Nelson Olaoluwa, Lagos Nigeria

Prisons are the earthly purgatory and sanatorium of the poor and the un-influential
Anthony Okosun, Baltimore
Prisons are the earthly purgatory and sanatorium of the poor and the un-influential. State houses are the prisons of the rich and powerful in Africa.
Anthony Okosun, Baltimore, USA

This is once again a big mistake - with no preparations on either side for the prisoners to adjust in the larger society, there are always going to be problems. In order for this to be successful, there needs to be some form of compensation or re-integration package to help them readjust to the society.
Josephat M Mua, Silver Spring, USA

The bad conditions in the prisons create monsters out of the people who go there. The inadequate facilities produce the opposite of what prisons are intended for. My honest opinion is that if we value life, we must act now and make improving prison life a priority of African governments.
Didi Newlove, Namur, Belgium

Too many innocent people routinely get sent to jail by judges who are largely incapable of challenging our unimaginably incompetent and corrupt police forces. Some literally rot in shocking conditions in police cells because they can't afford a bribe.
UE, UK/Nigeria

Cameroon is another example: I am a Cameroonian, and although I have never visited the jail as an in-mate I have visited to render services to friends. It is appalling. The hygienic condition of, for example; New Bell Central Prison in Douala is beyond human recognition.
Amana David, Cape Town, South Africa

Prison is supposed to be a place for punishment for a crime which has been committed by anyone, no matter what his or her status. However, not every crime deserves a prison term. In so many places in my continent, especially in my country Nigeria, prison is a place to where the poverty stricken individuals are sent.
Chinedu Okonkwo, Nigerian in Finland

In my view, prisons are filled with poor Cameroonians and Africans who stole "a grain of ground nuts" while the ring leaders go free. Laws in Africa are like spider webs that allow big insects like cockroaches to go through, while mosquitoes and flies get trapped.
Morfaw L Rene, Southern Cameroonian in Belgium



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