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Overcrowded Prisons in Ivory Coast a Cause for Concern, Bishops Say, Appeal for Clemency

Entrance to the Central Prison in Ivory Coast's economic capital, Abidjan. Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in Ivory Coast have expressed concern about overcrowded prisons in the West African nation.

In a message issued on the occasion of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 12, the Bishops ask the country’s leadership to grant clemency to some inmates.

“In the name of human dignity, we request from the public authorities an act of clemency and mercy towards the prisoners who are in preventive detention and who can benefit from a presidential pardon,” Catholic Bishops in Ivory Coast say in the statement authored by the National Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace and Environment (CJPCE).

The Bishops acknowledge with appreciation “all the efforts, initiatives and actions carried out recently in our country by all the political actors, religious and traditional authorities who are helping to calm the social climate and bring the sons and daughters of Ivory Coast closer together.”

Since 2007, the people of God in Ivory Coast celebrate the national day of prisoners on Divine Mercy Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter.

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“It is an initiative of the Church to be closer to prisoners and show them the mercy of God. The day also highlights the existential realities of Ivorian prisons,” the executive secretary of the national subcommittee on pastoral care of prisons, Fr. Charles Olidjo Siwa said during the Eucharistic celebration at Sts. Peter and Paul Divo Parish of Gagnoa Archdiocese.

Ivory Coast has 34 prisons and correctional facilities with a prison population of 16,800 inmates, according to a report

The country's largest and most famous prison, the Correctional and Detention Center in Abidjan (MACA), designed to accommodate 1,500 inmates, today has a prison population of 7,400 prisoners.

In their April 12 message, Catholic Bishops in Ivory Coast call on relevant authorities to address the living conditions in “prisons and correctional facilities, most of which suffer from a worrying state of overcrowding.”

“The most striking example is that of the Abidjan prison (Maca), which had an initial capacity of 2,000 inmates and a total of more than 7,000 inmates. The cases of the prisons of Daloa, Man, Soubré and Bondoukou are indicative of the overcrowding of our prisons,” the Bishops say through the leadership of CJPCE.

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This deplorable situation, the Bishops say in the message read Fr. Olidjo, “seriously undermines the dignity of the human person who at all times and on all occasions must be preserved.”

The Catholic Church leaders further note that in almost all prisons and correctional facilities in the West African nation, “there is a lack of training and apprenticeship facilities for trades that can help prisoners to reintegrate into society after their release.”

“As a spiritual and social partner of the State of Ivory Coast, we want to participate more in activities that create life and dignity for our brothers and sisters in prison,” they say.

Addressing themselves to the inmates, the Bishops appeal for “the conversion and repentance of the prodigal son who has become aware of his sinful state and who returns to the Father's house, free of all hatred, of all spirit of revenge, nourished by the virtue of love and forgiveness.”

They implore God to have mercy on “our fellow brothers and sisters, to whom the criminal acts of the prisoners have caused pain.”

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The Bishops also express the “urgency that each of the children of this country rid themselves of the spiritual and psychological prisons of hatred, revenge, violence and pride that poison the social and political life of our country.”