Tunisia: prisons on brink of collapse, pre-trial detention

Cell occupancy at 200% of capacity

18 May, 15:28

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, MAY 18 - Tunisian prisons are on the brink of collapse despite the fact that post-revolutionary governments have placed prison-building at the top of their agendas.

    According to the latest data, confirmed by organisations such as the Tunisian league for human rights and Human rights watch, the situation is a step away from total collapse in many of the country's prisons with jail occupancy reaching 200% of their maximum capacity (and this data is actually rather generous compared to reality). It is a tough issue to solve especially because of the time needed to build new prisons, the bureaucracy, (tenders, evaluation of the proposals, funding) and for the net construction time, to this it must also be added that the living standards of Tunisian prisons are anything but noteworthy. Another element, evident to those who are familiar with the issue, is that, at the moment, the total number of people jailed while awaiting trial surpasses the number of people who are actually serving their sentence after a trial.

    This fact is stirring the debate: lawyers and human rights activists are contesting the use the judiciary makes of pre-trial detention, which they argue, should be a measure of last resort for prosecutors.

    Pre-trial detention has instead become so commonplace that many argue its use has been transformed into a routine tool to abuse suspects and exert psychological pressure on the alleged culprits or even put behind bars a person, whom sooner of later the authorities intend to prosecute.

    At the time of the dictatorship and during the Bourghiba era, few voiced concern for the state of Tunisian jails with the exception of the opposition parties protesting against the treatment that befell political prisoners.

    However, nowadays, it is hard to sweep under the carpet the growing anger towards the situation in Tunisian jails. According to many experts the building of new prisons will not solve the question, but the challenge of confronting the attitude of a judiciary system over-flowing with a huge, maybe even unsustainable, amount of claims relating to crimes against life and property is an extremely tough one.

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