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Ivory Coast Table of Contents

Ivory Coast

Prison System

As in most Third World countries, prison conditions in Côte d'Ivoire were harsh. Prisons often were crowded, dietary conditions were poor, and medical and sanitation facilities were minimal. Family members were encouraged to bring food to prisoners to supplement the meager prison diets. Prisons served as punitive and custodial facilities rather than as rehabilitative institutions. Visits by prisoners' attorneys were permitted, but the vast majority of inmates could not afford legal assistance. The few court-appointed lawyers could not effectively represent the large numbers of persons assigned to them. There was virtually no vocational training, and although prisoners routinely performed labor, like cleaning public markets or maintaining roads, they did little or no gainful work. Prison staffs and guard forces were small relative to the inmate population, had minimum education and professional training, and could scarcely maintain control of the inmates and prison facilities. In July 1983, for example, a group of armed Burkinabé made a night raid on the large prison in Bouaké and freed forty-five of their countrymen.

The prison population in 1966 was 3,754 inmates, of whom 2,953 had been sentenced and 801 were accused but not yet convicted or sentenced. By the early 1970s, the prison population had increased sharply to between 5,000 and 7,000 inmates. The two largest prisons, at Yopougon near Abidjan and at Bouaké, accounted for about one-half the total prison population. The former facility had about 1,100 inmates, and the latter had between 1,600 and 2,000. Ten years later, the number of inmates in the Bouaké prison was estimated at 1,400, and by 1985 the total number of convicted prisoners in the country had doubled to some 13,000. A large proportion (perhaps even a substantial majority) of the inmates in Ivoirian penal institutions were expatriate Africans from neighboring countries. If the 1966 prison population figures are representative of a fairly stable ratio of inmates awaiting sentence to those actually serving sentences, then Côte d'Ivoire compared very favorably with the Third World norm in which the majority of prisoners were awaiting trial because of the judicial backlog.

Periodically, Houphouët-Boigny granted wholesale amnesties to prisoners. For example, in October 1975 he pardoned about 5,000 common law prisoners serving prison terms for embezzlement and theft. At the same time, he pardoned many political prisoners, including 145 who had been implicated in the Gagnoa uprising of 1970 and 12 soldiers who had been held since the 1973 coup plot. Ten years later, on December 7, 1985, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Côte d'Ivoire's independence, the president ordered the release of nearly 10,000 of the country's prisoners who were not incarcerated for violent crimes or armed robbery.

Data as of November 1988