Guinea Bissau has a very low human development index (0.364) and ranks 176th out of 185 countries (2013 data). In other words, 2/3 of the population lives on less than $ 2 a day.
The economic situation is compounded by extreme political instability. In this regard, we recall the latest coup in April 2012, after which the 2014 elections give some hope of relaunching and stabilizing.
The situation of prison structures, with their serious shortcomings, often leads to almost no respect for human rights and the dignity of prisoners, despite the fact that the national strategic plan for the justice sector calls for the best intentions regarding the adaptation of structures to legislative reforms and guest training.
The two projects, of which one (2322) represented the strengthening and continuation of the other (2309), facilitated the economic and social reintegration of prisoners and tried to protect their rights, strengthening the educational and training offer, favoring the birth of economic activities of prisoners inside the prisons, supporting their continuation outside, accompanying public institutions in the process of protecting people’s rights and increasing the awareness of civil society in this regard.
Detention centers in Bissau, Bafatà and Mansoa,
150 prisoners and indirectly their families (approx. 750 people)
The following activities were carried out:
- Psychological and social assistance to prisoners and their families with both individual and group meetings. Two experienced psychosocial assistants were involved for this purpose, in collaboration with the local National Committee of Volunteers.
- Literacy, mathematics, history and civic education courses, also open to prison guards who have requested them.
- Professional courses in horticulture, chick rearing, bread making, dyeing and weaving of fabrics, welding. The welding courses were also open to young people outside the prison, who were thus able not only to learn a trade using the existing structures, but also to interact with a reality that is part of the social context.
- Courses in the management of income-generating activities and in cooperative management models, open to both prisoners and trainers of previous activities.
- Creation of production and sales centers in previously learned craft activities, with the creation of a solidarity fund intended to cover urgent health costs, small works for improving living conditions in the prison rooms, microcredits for outgoing prisoners. These activities followed positive pilot experiments carried out so far and could in some cases be configured as alternative activities to detention.
- Post-imprisonment services for job orientation and community reintegration, facilitated in this by the existence of an association of former prisoners.
- Periodic visits to prisons in collaboration with the public authorities, to verify the conditions of imprisonment.
- Periodic meetings with the prison guards on the psychology of prisoners and on respect for human rights.
- Meetings with representatives of civil society on respect for the rights of detainees. Periodic radio broadcasts were also used for dissemination and information on prison situations, in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Communication of the local Lusophone University.
The results have been very positive, especially if we consider the difficult context in which we operated.
Thanks to psychological assistance, the first visible result was a sharp decrease in violent events among prisoners and between prisoners and guards. Equally positive results were obtained in the context of home assistance for the families of inmates: there was a significant reduction in family tensions and a re-establishment of many broken ties between prisoners and their loved ones.
72% of the inmates participated in the courses and, in the case of the welding course, also 5 people outside the prison. That what they learned was useful is evidenced by the fact that, after appropriate business management courses, 71% of the people involved in the courses gave birth, already in prison, to four small cooperative companies, concerning welding, egg production, the dyeing of fabrics and bread-making, of which the first two are particularly active.
But it doesn’t stop there. As part of the project, on the initiative of a former inmate, Renascer was born, an association dedicated to the social and economic reintegration of former prisoners. The results are already visible: a land of 10 hectares (equivalent to 20 football fields) has been granted by the local authorities to carry out agricultural and horticultural activities, in order to guarantee an effective reintegration of former prisoners. With the same intent, the Brazilian Embassy offered a former inmate to participate in a computer course. It is hoped that the good example will also be imitated by other entities, appropriately contacted by the national coordination of prisons.
The perception of public opinion on the prison situation and on the rights and needs of prisoners is also changing. This occurred following numerous visits to the project, organized specifically for various national and international entities engaged in the protection and dissemination of human rights, as well as thanks to the numerous radio broadcasts requested on the subject.
The 64 visits made by the project staff were also very useful for improving the prison situation to address and possibly resolve the problems that arose, with particular attention to the most vulnerable categories (minors, women, individuals with mental problems, etc).