Are there still prison farms

Côte d'Ivoire: humane penitentiary system

First prison farm turns prisoners into farmers

By Marc-André Boisvert | 08/08/2014

Saliakro / Abidjan. François Kouamé, the prisoner with the number 67, proudly shows a sow and her four piglets. In rubber boots he walks past two new tractors to a field where cassava and corn will soon be growing. "Look at these plants, they are a lot of work!", Kouamé is serving the remainder of his sentence at the Saliakro prison farm.

Sitting in jail in one of the poorest countries in the world is the sheer horror. The cells are hopelessly overcrowded, the food is inadequate, and there are no meaningful employment opportunities. In the search for alternatives, especially for people who are behind bars for minor offenses, the authorities have apparently achieved a coup.

The Saliakro farm, where Kouamé is serving the remainder of his one-year sentence, is the first prison of its kind in the West African country. He was one of the first prisoners to come here in December last year. 150 prisoners are now housed in the 21 buildings that were erected on the site of a former summer camp. Their sentences are limited to up to three years. So you are not guilty of any violent crime.

Three meals a day and clean cells

Kouamé is happy to work on the farm after spending six months in prison in the town of Soubré. He came there because he cut trees on a neighboring cocoa plantation. "The four of us slept in a single cell," he says about the time in Soubré. "We were given a single bowl of rice a day to eat." In Saliakro, the young man receives three meals a day. He shares a clean room with 16 other inmates. Everyone has their own bed. There is a toilet and enough space to move around.

Mamadou Doumbia was sentenced to two years in prison for computer theft. The 32-year-old looks calm and is eloquent. After eleven months in Agboville prison near the economic metropolis of Abidjan, he is also very happy to be on the farm. In doing so, he escaped hell, where rape, malnutrition and illness were part of everyday life.

"Only now do I feel like a person again," says Doumbia. However, life on the farm is not a vacation. The inmates are woken up at 5:30 a.m. and go to work an hour and a half later. There is a short lunch break at lunchtime, but it is over at 3 p.m. The prisoners can spend the afternoons and evenings as they wish, but they must be in their dormitories by 9 p.m. at the latest.

With the help of Saliakro's project, the authorities and advocates of an alternative prison system want to kill several birds with one stone: prison conditions are to be improved, costs reduced and rehabilitation easier. Compared to other states in West Africa, Côte d'Ivoire still has relatively modern prisons. Other countries have stopped investing in this sector since the 1970s. In Ghana, the colonial fortress in Jamestown in Accra served as a prison until 2008.

In Guinea-Bissau, prisoners were crammed into a colonial building until the United Nations had a prison built. Today the colonial building is the house of human rights. In Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the overcrowded prisons date back to the 1960s.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the penal institutions are no longer up to date. The MACA prison in Abidjan is more than overcrowded. Designed in the 1980s for around 1,500 prisoners, over 5,000 people are now imprisoned here. "Hygiene is a big problem," says Jean, an inmate, on the phone with IPS. "The water supply often fails." Jean wants to remain anonymous because prisoners are not allowed to speak to the press.

Traditional prisons overcrowded

In Man, a city in western Côte d'Ivoire, many people are imprisoned who were arrested with around 3,000 dead in the unrest after the 2010-2011 elections. Even though the complex was renovated last year, it still houses too many prisoners. Instead of the originally planned 300, there are now twice as many prisoners.

Didier, who is waiting for his trial in Man, is not satisfied with the sparse portions of rice. "Most of the time we only get something to eat once a day," he says. Five prisoners died in Man in May and more were hospitalized. As prison doctor Viviane Lawson Kiniffo reports, overcrowding, malnutrition and poor hygiene are major problems in prisons.

Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly inaugurated the first prison farm in Côte d'Ivoire in the presence of celebrities and promised to open more facilities that will follow this example. Once operations in Saliakro are fully up and running, the prison administration should save several hundred US dollars. The prisoners will not only produce on the 450 hectares of land for their own use, but also for the local markets.

Contribution to rehabilitation

"It's not just about the inmates being able to feed themselves. We want to lead them back to a normal life. They should learn something so that they can fully integrate into society again," says prison director Pinguissie Ouattara. "We want to show the prisoners alternatives to criminal acts and thereby reduce the crime rate."

Saliakro is not to be found on any map. The name is composed of 'Kro' ('village' in the local language Baoule) and 'Salia' (the first name of the police chief Salia Ouattara, who died in 2007).

"Our goal is to make sure that the prisoners use the prison time wisely," says Bernard Aurenche, country representative of the French organization 'Prisoners Without Borders', which helped to buy a tractor. The 150 prisoners are trained by agricultural scientists and receive the equivalent of 70 cents a day for their work. With the savings, they can buy their own grain after they are released.

Kouamé has worked in agriculture before. In Saliakro he learned a lot, as he says. "I now know how I can make my farm more profitable: I have to diversify more."

The way to the goal, however, is rocky. The European Union supports the project financially. But it is important to find longer-term financing options. Ouattara, the prison farm manager, is confident: "We are just getting started. Everything will turn out fine for the men here. They are definitely better off here, where they have something meaningful to do." (afr / IPS)

| Tags: Côte d´Ivoire, justice, social affairs, Marc-André Boisvert