Prison and detention center conditions were below international standards, principally due to overcrowding and poor infrastructure. The Directorate General of Prisons and Rehabilitation spent approximately 3,650 dinars ($2,000) per prisoner annually.
Physical Conditions: Prisons were understaffed and lacked adequate equipment to deal with the number of inmates. Overcrowding persisted, despite periodic amnesties since the 2011 revolution, due at least in part to the transfer of large number of prisoners from 14 prisons damaged during prisoner uprisings in 2011.
An April 25 report, Prisons in Tunisia: International Standards versus Reality, by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights cited overcrowding, along with poor infrastructure, as the biggest problems in prisons. The highest rates of overcrowding were found in four prisons: Kasserine (151 percent), Kairouan (138 percent), Mesadine Prison of Sousse (116 percent), and Jendouba (114 percent). The report concluded that conditions often forced inmates to share beds.
As of October there were 23,686 prisoners and detainees, 54 percent of whom were in pretrial detention. The high percentage of pretrial detainees, which stemmed from case-flow problems, raised concerns about the capacity of the courts to dispense timely justice.
The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from prisoners, but the Justice Ministry reported that overcrowding forced them to hold pretrial detainees together with individuals who had already been convicted. Overcrowded conditions were exacerbated by substandard lighting, ventilation, and heating problems in buildings not originally built to be prisons.
Of the country’s 27 prisons, one was designated solely for women, and eight prisons contained separate wings for women. As of October 647 women were incarcerated, 60 percent of whom were awaiting trial. The conditions of detention for women were reportedly better than those for men. The number of inmates at the Manouba Prison, reserved for women, was below the accommodation capacity. Authorities reserved six other corrections institutions for minors, housing a population of 243, of whom 18 were girls. Conditions in these facilities were better than those in adult prisons.
Health services available to inmates were inadequate. Very few prisons had an ambulance or medically equipped vehicle. Officials also mentioned they lacked equipment necessary for security of guards, other personnel, and inmates. Additionally, there was a lack of training for personnel in crisis management, use of force, and human rights awareness.
While most prisons suffered from decaying infrastructure, prisoners had access to potable water and adequate food.
Administration: Recordkeeping was inadequate with data not always updated or accurate. During the year officials from the General Directorate of Prisons and Rehabilitation received training in methods to improve prisoner classification. The directorate developed a new classification system and began updating its database at year’s end.
According to prison officials, other problems included lengthy criminal prosecution procedures that led to extended periods of pretrial detention, understaffing at prisons and detention centers, difficult work conditions, and low pay. Authorities rarely pursued other methods of punishment as an alternative to imprisonment.
Authorities allowed prisoners to pray in their cells and to receive one family visit per week, unlimited parcels and letters, and unlimited visits by legal counsel. Prisoners received three meals per day and one shower per week; they could receive food and property from family three times per week. Psychologists or sociologists played a role in reducing tensions. Adult prisoners reportedly had some access to educational and vocational training programs, although capacity limitations resulted in a distinct minority of prisoners enjoying such access.
Independent Monitoring: Following the 2011 revolution, the government expanded access to prisons by fully independent, nongovernmental observers, including local and international human rights groups, NGOs, and the local media, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization Against Torture in Tunisia.