Article published in the newsletter of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa (CPTA) "Africa Torture Watch No. 4" in April 2012
Overcrowding in prisons is endemic in Burkina Faso and can be considered to amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In fact, the occupancy rate in prisons is around 200% and is even higher in male-dominated major buildings. In April 2011, the occupancy rate was 267.22% at Bobo Dioulasso prison, 260% in Fada N’Gourma and more than 311% in the quarter for adult men in the Ouagadougou central prison. The overcrowding is one of the causes of appalling prison conditions, poor sanitary conditions, shortage of food supply and healthcare, which may in some cases be fatal. Decreasing overcrowding could help fight against lack of food, lack of medicine and against violence between inmates. The legal system in Burkina Faso sets out Community service (Travaux d’intérêt généraux - TIG) as an alternative to detention. Its implementation is being explored to prevent overcrowding and all forms of ill-treatment in prison facilities.
Community service (TIG) were introduced in the penal system in Burkina Faso in 2004 when politicians realized that prison as a means to fight against crime was a failure. The Community Service is a sentence imposed by a correctional court; the offender has to perform unpaid work to benefit the community instead of going to jail. Thus, the convicted person avoids prison, keeps his job and maintains social relationships.
TIG has three main goals:
The punishment of the offender: TIG is a constraint both physical and moral for the offender. On the one hand, his freedom is restricted, TIG requires self-discipline and respect for others and, secondly, it confines the offender to situations or tasks that involve his free will, his experience and his capacities. The convicted person works for free;
It repairs the damage caused to the community;
It helps with the rehabilitation of the offender.
Facilitating the implementation of Community service
To prevent torture and ill treatments in prison, the International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT), together with ACAT-Burkina and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), have been running a three year project in Burkina Faso aiming at improvement of prison conditions.
Within the framework of this project, a preliminary study on prison conditions was conducted. It enabled a general overview of the prison situation in Burkina Faso. The concluding observations of the study highlighted that the improvement of prison conditions is the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and of all institutions, which operate in the penal procedure chain. Given the lack of funding and the weak capacity of the prison administration, civil society organizations, with the support of technical and financial partners, are the main actors that support the implementation of mechanisms which could improve prison conditions in Burkina Faso. It is in this context that FIACAT and ACAT-Burkina Faso decided to work more specifically on Community Services as alternatives to detention for fighting against the overcrowding. In 2010, they organized several public awareness raising workshops on TIG and other relevant themes including citizenship, the rights of detainees and alternative sentences to imprisonment. These workshops targeted judges, members of civil society, the security forces and wardens on Community Services. The two organizations also set up a Day of Solidarity with detainees held in Koudougou, third largest city of the country, on 18 December 2010.
The project is arousing a great deal of interest on the part of legal and political bodies in Burkina Faso. Following the three workshops organized on Community Service in 2010, several judges have committed themselves to implement the alternative punishments to custody; state prosecutors want to accompany the implementation of Community Services for individuals who have committed minor offences, who are young and non-recidivists. Prosecutors of Bobo-Dioulasso, Gaoua, Koudougou and to a lesser extent Ouagadougou, began to implement the legislation on community service. However the results are currently difficult to evaluate and events that occurred in Burkina Faso from February to June 2011 and the arrests that followed did not help the decongestion of prisons.
The Community Service as a sentence has many benefits. It helps fight against prison overcrowding, reduces the maintenance costs of inmates and thereby improve the conditions of detention. It also provides cost effective workforce to local authorities and state administrations. It also helps to limit contacts between those convicted for minor offences and dangerous criminals, reducing subsequently the risk of recidivism. Lastly, TIG helps with the reintegration of prisoners.
This experience on community service in Burkina Faso could be seen as a good practice that should be promoted and replicated in other countries as a means for preventing torture and ill-treatment as well as improving conditions of detention.
Program Officer, FIACAT