9 Toughest African Prisons and Their Countries - Kenyan Magazine (2024)

Imagine a world where being sent to prison means not only losing your freedom but also enduring unimaginable hardships and inhumane conditions. For many inmates across Africa, this grim scenario is a daily reality.

Prisons in several African countries are frequently cited for their deplorable conditions, reflecting broader systemic issues within their respective criminal justice systems.

Overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and severe mistreatment are rampant in many of these facilities. In this article, we will provide an in-depth examination of some of the worst prisons on the continent, highlighting the urgent need for reform.

Let’s dive into the harsh realities faced by prisoners in these notorious institutions, shedding light on a crisis that demands immediate attention and action. You don’t want to find yourself here.

The Worst Prisons In Africa:

1. Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, Zimbabwe

Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, located near Harare, is notorious for its inhumane conditions. Built to house around 1,300 inmates, it often holds significantly more.

Prisoners face severe overcrowding, with some cells designed for 30 people holding up to 100. Inmates are given minimal food, leading to malnutrition. Access to medical care is extremely limited.

Sanitation facilities are poor, contributing to the spread of diseases like tuberculosis.

2. Gitarama Prison, Rwanda

Gitarama Prison is often described as one of the worst prisons globally due to its extreme overcrowding and horrific conditions. Designed to hold about 400 inmates, it often houses over 7,000.

Inmates are forced to stand all day due to lack of space, leading to severe physical and psychological stress. Deadly fights over space and food are common.

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There are reports of cannibalism as food is scarce. Sanitation is virtually nonexistent, with human waste covering the floors, leading to frequent outbreaks of gangrene and other infections.

3. Kinshasa Penitentiary Rehabilitation Center, Democratic Republic of Congo

Originally intended for 150 inmates, the Kinshasa Penitentiary Rehabilitation Center now crams in over 850. The severe overcrowding forces prisoners to sleep in hallways and near septic tanks, leading to chronic health issues.

Malnutrition is rampant. The prison lacks adequate medical facilities to treat illnesses, resulting in high mortality rates.

Inmates often suffer from diseases due to the unsanitary conditions and lack of proper nutrition.

4. Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Nigeria

Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, located in Lagos, is one of Nigeria’s most infamous prisons. It is notorious for severe overcrowding, with cells designed for a few inmates holding dozens.

The prison environment is marked by violence, with frequent reports of inmate abuse by guards. Medical facilities are insufficient.

Many prisoners suffer from untreated illnesses. The prison also struggles with poor sanitation, leading to frequent disease outbreaks.

5. Mukobeko Maximum Prison, Zambia

Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe, Zambia, was initially designed to house one inmate per cell, but now holds up to 15 per cell. This severe overcrowding leads to poor ventilation, contributing to frequent outbreaks of tuberculosis and other diseases.

Malnutrition is a serious issue. The prison is plagued by rodent infestations and guard brutality.

Inmates often face harsh treatment and lack access to adequate medical care.

6. Nairobi Prison, Kenya

Built in 1911 for 800 inmates, Nairobi Prison now houses over 3,000. This severe overcrowding creates an environment of filth and disease.

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Inmates suffer from inadequate food and poor medical care, leading to malnutrition and untreated illnesses. The prison’s sanitary conditions are deplorable, with insufficient toilets and a pervasive stench from human waste.

These conditions severely impact the physical and mental health of prisoners.

7. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya

Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, situated on a 1,200-acre plot in Kiambu County, is notorious for its harsh conditions and overcrowding. Originally built to house 1,400 inmates, it often holds more than double that number.

The prison has a grim reputation for poor sanitation, malnutrition, and frequent disease outbreaks such as cholera. Inmates face severe mistreatment, including reports of sodomy and physical abuse by both fellow prisoners and guards.

The lack of proper medical care exacerbates the already dire conditions, leading to high mortality rates.

8. Black Beach Prison, Equatorial Guinea

Black Beach Prison, located on Bioko Island, is notorious for its brutal conditions and human rights abuses. Originally built during Spanish colonial rule, it now holds a mix of common criminals and political prisoners.

The facility is severely overcrowded, and inmates suffer from malnutrition, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care. Reports of guard brutality and torture are common.

The prison has a high mortality rate due to chronic illnesses and the harsh treatment of inmates.

9. Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa

Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town is one of the most dangerous prisons in South Africa. Designed to hold 3,900 inmates, it now accommodates over 8,900. This extreme overcrowding leads to frequent violence among inmates, who often use improvised weapons.

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Disease spreads rapidly due to poor living conditions and lack of medical care. Many inmates wait years for their trials, exacerbating the overcrowding issue.

The prison environment is controlled by gangs, further contributing to its dangerous reputation.

The dire conditions in these African prisons highlight the urgent need for comprehensive prison reform across the continent. Addressing issues such as overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and inhumane treatment of inmates is critical.

While some efforts have been made to improve conditions, much more needs to be done to ensure that these prisons meet basic human rights standards. Enhanced oversight, increased funding for prison facilities, and broader criminal justice reforms are essential steps toward addressing these deep-rooted issues.

9 Toughest African Prisons and Their Countries - Kenyan Magazine (2024)


What are Kenyan prisons like? ›

Torture and ill-treatment appear to be used indiscriminately in Kenyan prisons to instil discipline. Prisoners are reportedly beaten if they do not obey the orders of prison officers or breach prison rules.

What is the documentary about prisons in South Africa? ›

The Number is a short documentary film that looks at the myths and markings of South Africa's prison 'Number' gangs A secret code spelt out and spoken across the bodies of the inmates. The film immerses its audience in the world of the Number gangs, their history, personal journeys, codes and body markings.

How many maximum prisons are there in Kenya? ›

Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners)c. 60 000 at December.2023 (via U.S. State Department human rights report)
Number of establishments / institutions134 (21.3.2022)
Official capacity of prison system34 000 (December.2023)
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In which county is Kamiti? ›

The National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) on Friday conducted a tree planting exercise in collaboration with the Kenya Prisons Service at Kamiti Medium Prison in Kiambu County.

Are there conjugal visits in Kenyan prisons? ›

Conversation. Kenyan prisons don't have conjugal visits, they have condom dispensers though.

What are female prisoners in Kenya begs? ›

We Want Sex – Kenya Female Prisoners Beg Officials. they visit. give room for intimacy. Prison in Malindi, Kilfi County said.

How many female prisons are in Kenya? ›

The offences notwithstanding, those arrested find themselves assigned to one of the eighteen (18) women's prison in the country with Langata and Shimon La Tewa maximum security women's prisons housing inmate populations of between 2000 and 3500 offenders.

What country has the most successful prisons? ›

Correctional facilities in Norway focus on maintaining custody of the offender and attempting to make them functioning members of society. Norway's prison system is renowned as one of the most effective and humane in the world.

What is the largest county in Kenya? ›

Turkana is the largest county while Mombasa is the smallest one. The table below provides the basic information about the 47 counties. Pastoralism, Crop Production (Mangoes & Cowpeas), Mining (sand & murram), Indigenous Poultry Keeping and Fishing.

How many prisoners are in Kamiti? ›

Located at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, this illegal call centre operated by convicts is a den of thriving criminality. Close to 2500 convicts are confined here and a deeper dive shows a life of continued crime that affects the outside world in a heavy dose of irony.

What is Kiambu County known for? ›

Kiambu is characteristic of fertile soils and plenty of rainfall. There are numerous high potential small holder farms, which pack enough potential to not only feed the county, but also supply Nairobi, Kitui and Kajiado with dairy products, foodstuffs, green vegetables and fresh fruit.

What are the challenges facing Kenya prisons? ›

More so, the paper identified the challenges of the prison system that includes the punitive and dire conditions in prisons since independence inadequate legal representation, usage of drugs by inmates, mistreatment of prisoners and lack of the observed freedoms privileges and rights and lack of independence oversight ...

What country has comfortable prisons? ›

Correctional facilities in Norway focus on maintaining custody of the offender and attempting to make them functioning members of society. Norway's prison system is renowned as one of the most effective and humane in the world.

Is there life imprisonment in Kenya? ›

The Court of Appeal has declared life imprisonment in Kenya should be 30 years maximum. The landmark judgment now changes the matrix on how Kenya punishes capital offences and those convicted for defilement. Kenya no longer hangs those who are convicted of murder, robbery with violence, and treason.

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