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Forgotten dignity

Even before political crisis gripped the country in 2009, Madagascar was one of the poorest countries in the world. With donors suspending most financial aid to the country, the prison system — already in disrepair — was hit hard. Madagascar’s detainees live in cramped, overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, forgotten by the outside world. As in many parts of the world, detention carries a heavy stigma, for detainees and their families. Many in Madagascar’s Antanimora prison, for example, have not seen their children in more than ten years. For many families, there are too many miles — and too much shame — associated with the long, arduous trips to visit imprisoned relatives. These photos by Guillaume Binet are a window into the daily life in Antanimora prison, where regular ICRC and family visits, along with other small steps such as building new latrines and kitchens, are helping to restore the health and dignity of all those on the inside. Text by the ICRC’s Marie-Servane Desjonquères.

More than 2,600 people are incarcerated at Antanimora Penitentiary, a facility designed to house 800 detainees. In each building, several levels have been erected in order to accommodate the high number of detainees. Still, many sleep side by side on the floor, in severely cramped conditions. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

Open areas between the living quarters give detainees a chance to walk around, exercise and socialize within boundaries marked in white powder by prison authorities. In some of the prison yards, detainees have set up open markets where those who have the means can buy food, soap, cigarettes or get a haircut. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

Every afternoon, detainees line up and wait to be served a meal composed simply of boiled cassava roots. Some are able to buy food and cook for themselves in their living quarters. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

When family members come to visit, they are separated from detainees by two grills spaced about two metres apart. The twice-a-week visits last only ten minutes. Given that it takes some families many hours to make the long journey to Antanimora, many simply don’t visit their loved ones. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

Life is not easy for prison workers either. In certain areas of the prison, one guard might be responsible for overseeing 250 detainees. That means making tough decisions on the spot, such as when inmates get sick during the night and ask to be let out of their cells.
Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

There are few organized activities for those incarcerated at Antanimora, but religious groups come regularly and detainees can drop in to join the prayers and songs.
Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

In the women’s section of Antanimora, children born behind bars can live with their mothers until they are 18 months old, after which they are turned over to relatives or care-giving associations that often bring the children back to spend weekends with their mothers. There is a special area of the prison for mothers and infants, but it is also severely overcrowded. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC

As in many detention facilities around the world, the ICRC conducts regular visits with detainees in order to talk with them, and authorities, about prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. In some cases, they also have the chance to share news with family. Photo: ©Guillaume Binet/ICRC


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