Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding and inadequate food, sanitary conditions, and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was pervasive in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as four to five times the intended capacity. Sanitation, food, and medical care were wholly inadequate.
In December 2012 the country’s 77 functional prisons, which had an intended capacity of 16,995 inmates, held 25,337 prisoners and detainees, including 515 women and 865 juveniles, according to the Justice Ministry’s 2012 human rights report. Of these prisoners, 15,756 were awaiting trial and 9,881 had been convicted. According to the report of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF), in May, Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison, built to hold 1,500 inmates, held 3,886 prisoners, the majority of whom were in pretrial detention. In October 2013 Douala’s New Bell Prison, designed for 800, held 2,800 to 3,000 inmates. As of October 6, the Bamenda Central Prison in the Northwest Region, built to house 350 prisoners, held more than 600. There were approximately 100 prisoners for each toilet, which also doubled as a shower. The Bafoussam Central Prison in the West Region, built to house 600 prisoners, held 912 prisoners, 574 of whom were in pretrial detention.
According to government sources, 51 of 77 functional prisons had sections for women and 36 had sections for minors. Additionally, there were two separate prisons for women and a few pretrial detention centers for women, but officials routinely held women in police and gendarmerie complexes with men, occasionally in the same cells. In Yaounde, for instance, the Mendong and Tsinga gendarmerie brigades had only one detention cell each, so men and women were held in the same space. Conditions for male and female inmates were equally poor. Authorities often incarcerated juvenile prisoners with adults, occasionally in the same cells or wards.
Deaths from illness, malnutrition, and lack of medical care occurred. Deficiencies in health care and sanitation remained significant problems. Disease and illness were widespread, and sick inmates were not systematically and promptly separated from the general population. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and chronic diseases, were rampant. Doctors and medicine were inadequate. Many convicts spent their sentences moving between the prison yard and the hospital ward, as they were infected and re-infected with illnesses. Potable water was inadequate, and officials expected prisoners’ families to provide food for their family members.
Prisoners generally had one meal a day, with a daily food allocation of less than 250 CFA francs ($0.50). Corruption among prison personnel was widespread. In 2013 pretrial detainees reported that prison guards sometimes required them, under threat of abuse, to pay “cell fees”--money paid to prevent further abuse. There were, however, no such reports in 2014. Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, beds, and transfer to less-crowded areas of the prisons. Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained in prison after completing their sentences or receiving court orders of release.
In temporary holding cells within police or gendarme facilities, officials held adult men, juveniles, and women together. Detainees usually received no food, water, or medical care. Detainees whose families knew of their incarceration relied on their relatives for food and medicine. Overcrowding was common. Detention center guards accepted bribes from detainees in return for access to better conditions, including permission to stay in an office instead of a cell.
Many citizens in the North and Far North regions turned to traditional chiefs for dispute resolution. The government claimed there were no private prisons in the country. According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, some traditional leaders continued to detain persons illegally within their palaces, especially in the country’s Far North, North, and Adamaoua regions. During the year the Lamido of Godala, near Maroua, reportedly detained a man and his son for two days before releasing them after pressure from human rights organizations. The victims filed a complaint with the authorities, and the case was in progress at years end. There continued to be reports of private detention facilities with reputations for serious abuse, which allegedly operated within the palaces of the traditional chiefdoms of Rey Bouba, Gashiga, Bibemi, and Tcheboa. The government conducted an investigation and was unable to identify any private prisons.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, although the NCHRF reported improvements in a few prisons. In 2013 the NCHRF proposed alternatives to detention, such as community labor, but the government had adopted no changes to sentencing guidelines by year’s end. Authorities allowed prisoners access to visitors and religious observance. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. The country had no prison ombudsman.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted international humanitarian organizations access to prisoners. The NCHRF and the NGO Commission for Justice and Peace made infrequent, unannounced prison visits during the year. The government continued to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons, and the organization conducted visits. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that human rights activists attempting to visit prisoners were required to pay bribes to prison officials.
Some human rights activists attempting to visit prisoners reported they were unable to obtain the necessary permits. For example, NGOs reported they were unsuccessful in their attempts to meet with Aboubakar Sidiki, president of the Mouvement Patriotique du Salut Camerounais political party, who was arrested in his office in Douala on August 9 and was being held at DGRE headquarters without visitation rights or legal representation (also see section 7.d.).
Improvements: The government reported significant efforts aimed at humanizing detention conditions, including the provision of bedding, medical, and educational books for infirmaries and schools in the central prisons (the prisons located in the 10 regional capitals); improvement of access to water and energy, by constructing 22 hand-pumped wells and developing biogas systems; and the acquisition of new vehicles to improve the escort and transportation of detainees. The government also reported an increase in funding for sanitation and health care in the year, including allocations of CFA 48,600,000 ($96,000) for sanitation, CFA 507,900,000 ($1,000,000) for rehabilitation, and CFA 150,000,000 ($300,000) for health coverage. These sums and their actual disbursement to prisons could not be independently confirmed.
Following inspection visits to prisons and detention centers in Douala and Yaounde, respectively, in January and May, the NCHRF reported some improvements in hygiene and sanitation conditions, especially at the Kondengui central and Secretary of State for Defense secondary prisons, compared with previous years. The NCHRF claimed minimum detention conditions were being respected, especially with record keeping, including the identification of detainees, reasons for detention and the authority that decided the detention, and the expected release date. The NCHRF noted that prisoners were separated by category, distinguishing men, women, minors, detainees with a contagious disease, persons with mental disabilities, and prisoners sentenced to death.