Improving life on the inside in Benin

Prisoners learn carpentry. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, require that prisoners be actively employed for a normal working day and that vocational training in useful trades is provided, especially for young prisoners. Photo: SNU Bénin/Yezael Adoukonou

A prison’s mission is to “protect society, ensure that sanctions are applied, promote rehabilitation of inmates and prepare their socio-professional reintegration,” says Serge Oké, Administrator of the Abomey civil prison in Benin. Thanks to UNDP he was able to participate in the Support Project for the Improvement in Access to Justice and Accountability, implemented by the Ministry of Justice and Legislation.

“I was able to take part in a training session for prison managers on the administration of prison units. This training has provided us with the skills to perform administrative tasks. We have now more confidence in the conduct of our mission,” he said.

Abomey is one of Benin’s three civil prisons. At the end of 2020 it housed 1,227 prisoners on five hectares of land.

UNDP promotes an integrated prison management system — called SIGEP — and helped train registry staff and prison authorities on its use. This system is a decision-making tool, which has been installed in 2019. It provides real-time information on the prison’s situation, and sentences offenders are serving.

Psychosocial care for inmates

Life in prison is not easy for inmates who often have to face isolation and inactivity. Prison visits have been suspended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19. In order to reduce the risk that detainees suffer from depression and other mental health problems, UNDP has recruited seven doctors and three psychologists, all United Nations Volunteers.

“Since the doctor’s arrival two months ago, the health care of the detainees has been improved. He is available to them 24 hours a day and supervises the work of the nurse,” says Serge Oké.

“All new inmates are systematically received in the infirmary for consultation. We take note of their state of health. If they suffer from “simple” diseases, we cure them here, but when they have specific ailments such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, ENT problems or need surgery, we refer them to the Abomey Departmental Hospital Center for treatment by specialists,” said Edouard Kpahè, a doctor and United Nations Volunteer at the Abomey civil prison.

A physician and psychologist were assigned to the Parakou civil prison. As a result, about 300 inmates have already received care. Some 169 inmates entering or leaving prison have been able to receive psychological support, towards their adaptation to the prison environment and in preparation of their reintegration, with a view to preventing criminal recidivism, and 227 inmates have benefited from medical services.

In the fight against COVID-19, UNDP has equipped remand centres and civil prisons with 110 hand washing device; 48,200 protective reusable medical masks 2,710 bottles of hand sanitizer 11 infrared thermometers and 1,500 latex gloves for the benefit of 9,362 prisoners.

Training towards offender reintegration

“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 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, require that prisoners be actively employed for a normal working day and that vocational training in useful trades is provided, especially for young prisoners.

At the civil prison of Parakou, the weaving workshop was revived with three new weaving machines, three new sewing machines and 1,200 spools of weaving thread of various colours. Fifteen inmates have been trained in sewing and weaving. At the civil prison of Abomey, 200 inmates have been trained in the manufacture of soap, hand sanitizer and bleach, which will contribute to their successful socio-professional reintegration.

The administrator of the Abomey civil prison is now planning to set up a prison farm, as well as distance learning training that would provide inmates with additional skills for their reintegration after prison and to prevent recidivism.

Text: UNDP Benin/Elsie Assogba

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