South Sudan

10 prisoners die in congested detention center in Aweil

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December 26, 2011 (JUBA) - At least 10 people, two of whom were women, are reported to have died in a congested detention center in Aweil, the capital of North Bahr el Ghazal State, a senior government official said on Monday.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the Judiciary to speed up the justice system "and release some of the 314 prisoners to avoid congestion in prison”.

He said the conditions were unhygienic condition and warned that the if the situation got any worse there could be disease outbreak if no immediate action is taken.

Water, hygiene and sanitation officials were asked to pay a visit to the centre as it was reported that human waste was overflowing towards a near by household where children were playing close to it, the official said.

A government official who took part in the assessment said that there could be a major disease outbreak if action was taken.

“We also shared our findings with health workers by appointing surveillance focal point in the prison, as it was reported that there was an outbreak of chicken pox which we did not hear”, he explained.

The official is worried that the situation may deteriorate as he believes the authorities are not paying significant attention to their report.

“As health personnel our findings worry me a lot considering that this state was consecutively hit twice by the Cholera outbreak in 2008 and 2009 in which we lost a lot of people because of lack of cooperation between institutions to prepare in advance”, he said.

The state government is planning to upgrade capacity of its main detention center in Aweil town, capital of the state.

According to Albino Ayom, a Brigadier General in charge of prisons and correctional facilities, the Aweil centre "needs financial support" to upgrade the facility so it can accommodate between 600 and 800 people.

When the centre was built around 1923 the capacity was only 150 but there are currently around 314 inmates.

“Sometimes the number of prisoners increase to 600 or even more. This has always forced administrators to complain. We have actually presented numbers of proposals to higher authorities including the office of the ministry of local government. Our appeals have always been to upgrade the capacity”, he added Ayom.

The centre was renovated in 2009 but without much change to the infrastructure according to a an assessment. The report by the state ministry of health in collaboration with the United Nations Mission In South Sudan’s child protect unit, and the UNICEF and the prison authorities, observed that the cell despite the changes "It remains the same building”.

Findings of the joint assessment report

The internal report extended to Sudan Tribune dated 22 December 2011 “was to find out exactly the actual cause of death, as our mandate is to investigate such cases and also see ourselves condition of the prison”, an official from the state ministry of health said.

The over crowding has caused "some disadvantages especially health wise”, the official said. He said they out of 314 inmates 26 were women.

Of those awaiting trial at Aweil prison 81 are male and 9 female with 210 men and 16 women have been convicted. On top of the 314 inmates three men and one woman are serving life sentences, while 15 men have been condemned to death sentences.

"There were also 5 infants”, the official said.

The report observed the lack of a functioning water system in the prison. There were also reports of an increased acute respiratory tract infection among the prisoners due to lack of ventilation.

Reports of diarrhea among the prisoners is common. The report also observed presence of that five women were breast feeding young children, with others expecting to give birth soon.

The Traditional Birth Attendant assigned specifically to look after female inmates died leaving nobody to look after them, as they were not replaced.

Deaths in the prison

The joint report observed death of ten prisoners between months of January December 2011 inside the prison, most of whom were male inmates.

Authorities linked the cause of death to lack of sufficient medical care as some were reported dying after showing signs of swelling legs and stiffness, which could have been “Rheumatoid Arthritis” health practitioners claim, although no medical tests were carried out to substantiate this.

Others have died while staging hunger strikes.

The official explained that the main purpose of the visit was to find out authenticity of the reported death cases in the prison and to recommend what the authorities should do to avoid further deaths.

Sudan Tribune was not able to independently verify these claims although the report carried out by the joint team representing state government and partners shows that they held meetings with key government officials.