International Nelson Mandela day: The UNODC visits detention centers in Senegal.

"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones." ― Nelson Mandela

The international Nelson Mandela day, celebrated since 2010 on the 18th of July, commemorates the man who has immeasurably contributed to the culture of peace and freedom. The 27 years he spent in prison, as a result of his fight for the equality and democracy of his people, have inspired the denomination of the revised version of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the "Nelson Mandela Rules".

The UNODC delegation at the gates of the men's prison of Dakar

On the occasion of this day, the UN promotes human prison conditions, raises the awareness of the public about the fact that the detainees continue to be a part of society and about the recognition of the particular importance of the social work accomplished by the prison staff.

To commemorate this day in Senegal, a delegation of the UNODC Regional Office for West and Central Africa (ROSEN) visited the women's detention establishment and the men's prison of Dakar, as well as the recently inaugurated special district/warden, prepared for the detainees considered very dangerous, and the medical-social center attached to the prison.

The visit was conducted by the director of the penitentiary administration, Colonel Daouda Diop, and his collaborators, who noted that despite the multiple challenges that the Senegalese penitentiary system faces, the administration tries its best, with the available resources, to improve the conditions of detention.

Among the challenges present in the visited detention centers, first is the problem of prison overcrowding. In fact the men's prison, a prison for long term detentions, was conceived for a capacity of 800 detainees, but holds today 1.041 detainees. Furthermore, the financial resources dedicated to the detainees in Senegal present challenges for the penitentiary administration. Even if in this field there has been some limited progress -- in the last 3 years the State has increased the daily allowance per detainee from 600 CFA to 1,000 CFA -- this allocation is still not satisfactory for the needs that must be met, in particular the food and health of the prisoners.

Some of the workshops visited by the delegation ; Hairdressing, Carpentry and Artisanal

However, the penitentiary administration does its best to make sure that the conditions of detention are the best, and especially to ensure the reintegration of prisoners and avoid recurrence. This is manifested by the efforts of the new medical-social center attached to the prison, as well as the various workshops that aim not only to keep the prisoners busy, but also to form them for their social reintegration.

In this regard, the delegation was able to visit, at the women's detention center, the sewing and hairdressing workshops as well as the literacy activities in national languages in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. As for the men's prison, the sewing, carpentry and artisanal workshops, as well as a computer room with a few machines offered by the state's IT development agency, were visited. 

  Visiting the Reintegration Gallery

Among the reintegration projects, two are very ambitious. Firstly, the development of an industrial sewing unit within the men's prison, which will employ more than 200 prisoner and is set to provide uniforms to multiple organisms such as the penitentiary administration and the police. Secondly, the establishment of a bakery that aims to provide bread to the entire penitentiary establishment of Dakar (around 4,000 breads per day), and which would therefore ensure autonomy in the supply of bread. Even better, the bakery would allow the production of individual breads, a first step towards the individualization of meals, a long term goal. Both the sewing workshop and the bakery aim to form the detainees in a way that will allow them to obtain a diploma. These efforts support the reintegration of the prisoners and aim at avoiding recurrence.

The UNODC delegation was also able to visit the Reintegration Gallery, an area where are exposed the realizations of the detainees: art paintings, bags, handmade shoes, cloths with dyed fabric, and other artisanal objects (earrings, key chains...), whose sales profits return to inmates, who have the choice regarding the manner in which they would like to dispose of these.

Finally, the UNODC delegation officially distributed the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, to the director of the penitentiary administration. These rules remind us of the fundamental role that prisons play in society, essential at the same time for public security as well as for the development of society. Indeed, the main objective of imprisonment and similar measures depriving individuals of their liberty is to protect society against crime and to avoid recurrence, rather than completely excluding the detained citizen, as the latter will have to reintegrate society once the term of his/her detention is over. This means that prisons are not only a repressive instrument, but should aim to be, more importantly, an instrument of reintegration for individuals who have committed a criminal offense.

Handing over the "Nelson Mandela Rules" at the end of the visit

UNODC, guardian of the Nelson Mandela Rules, as recalled by the Executive Director, M. Yury Fedotov, during his declaration for this day, "is responsible for ensuring technical assistance and advisory services to Member States in the field of criminal reform. To attain this goal, UNODC has recently launched new global programme that addresses the challenges of prisons, and that aims to reduce the scope of imprisonment; reinforce the management of prisons and improve the prison conditions; and facilitate the social reintegration of the prisoners following their liberation."

For more information:

UNODC and Prison Management

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules)