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Saudi Arabia

Prison Conditions

The administration of the kingdom's prisons was under the supervision of the director general of public security. Unsanitary and overcrowded prison conditions prior to King Faisal's reign were supposedly corrected after reforms adopted since the late 1960s. Nevertheless, it was clear from various published reports during the 1980s that conditions for most prisoners were very unpleasant. According to Saudi Arabia: A MEED Practical Guide published in 1983 by the Middle East Economic Digest, up to 200 prisoners might share a single room. Basic food was provided, usually eaten by hand from the floor, although prisoners' families often supplemented their diets. Inmates slept on a bare floor; in some cases, they were provided with a pad, but no mattress. They had to supply their own blankets. There was little ventilation and a hole in the floor served as a lavatory. Saudi prisons were not dangerous or violent, and treatment for ordinary inmates was not cruel. Little attention was given to rehabilitation or training for a trade after confinement, however. Boredom was a particular problem. According to the MEED guide, there was no provision for parole, but most prisoners were released for good behavior after serving three-quarters of their sentences. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988, published by the United States Department of State, also described conditions as severe in some institutions, although not intentionally degrading. Prisoners were liable to suffer heat stroke and sometimes complained of difficulty in obtaining adequate medical treatment. The Department of State said that the Saudi government was making efforts to expand and improve prisons, but substandard conditions persisted, especially in deportation centers where large numbers of foreigners were held prior to deportation.

Data as of December 1992