Prison Conditions

Algeria Table of Contents

The prison system is operated as a separate function of the Ministry of Justice. The system includes many facilities established and operated by the French during their rule. Persons convicted of lesser crimes are sent to provincial civil prisons. Those found guilty of more serious crimes, including murder, kidnapping, or rape, which carry a potential death sentence, serve time in one of three penitentiaries. Persons convicted of treason, terrorism, and other crimes against the state are also sent to the penitentiaries.

According to the United States Department of State, conditions in both types of institutions range from primitive to modern. Conditions in the penitentiaries are said to be worse than in the more numerous civil prisons. At El Harrach, the main prison in Algiers, prisoners are often crowded together, and sanitary facilities are poor. Inmates at other prisons, especially those in outlying areas, are thought to live under better conditions. Prisoners are segregated according to the seriousness of their crimes and the length of their sentences.

Medical care is described as rudimentary in most cases, although a local doctor under contract visits each prison regularly to treat sick prisoners. Seriously ill prisoners are sent to local hospitals. Inmates of civil prisons can receive visits from their families once a week. It is more difficult to visit prisoners held in penitentiaries. Conjugal visits are sometimes permitted at the discretion of local prison authorities. The prison diet is described as bland and starchy. Visiting families may bring food to augment the inadequate prison fare.

Detainees in the Saharan security camps have been forced to contend with extreme heat, poor food, inadequate bedding, and overcrowding. Next of kin often have not been notified about inmates' detention, and many detainees have been released near the camps without transportation home. A medical team under the auspices of the Algerian League of Human Rights found no evidence of torture in the detention camps, however. The United States Department of State has observed that in 1992 there were fewer reports of torture and brutal treatment than in prior years. The government has responded to concerns that have been raised about conditions in prisons and desert internment camps by organizations such as Amnesty International and has promised to remind military commanders of their responsibility to safeguard the rights of internees.

Most of the data on the strength and equipment of the armed forces are based on The Military Balance, 1993-1994, and on Jane's Fighting Ships, 1992-93. Little detailed information has been disclosed by Algerian authorities on the structure and performance standards of the service branches. The role of the military in the political crisis of 1991-92 has been analyzed by several authorities, including Guy Mandron in Jane's Intelligence Review and John P. Entelis and Lisa J. Arone in Middle East Policy. Numerous articles in the French periodical, Jeune Afrique, have followed the efforts of the security forces to maintain order against violence by Islamic radicals.

Alastair Horne's A Savage War of Peace is a balanced and comprehensive account of the military and political aspects of the Algerian War of Independence. The functioning of the criminal justice system and the record of the police and the gendarmerie in the struggle against Islamic-inspired dissidence are summarized in the United States Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and in annual reports by Amnesty International.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress