Overcrowded prisons in Tobruk place petty, violent, and non-violent offenders all together in dilapidated cells.
Saleh al-Sheikh, 40, of Benghazi, is serving a prison sentence for writing a bounced check to his former business partner after a failed joint business. The partner submitted the check to the Public Prosecution, which imprisoned Saleh.
Al-Sheikh was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department in Benghazi and brought before the Public Prosecution in Tobruk. He has served four months of a two-year sentence.
Al-Sheikh, a legal advisor at a bank in Benghazi, is married with two small children. He is far away from his family and serving his time among people who have been convicted of murder, robbery, fraud, and illegal immigration.
“I was convicted in an economic case, and certain circumstances have brought me here, but I am not a criminal. Why am I imprisoned among them?” says al-Sheikh of his fellow inmates.
The Correctional and Rehabilitation Institution of Tobruk, with a capacity of no more than 60 prisoners, is currently accommodating over 120 – the room is too small to classify and separate prisoners.
“The current situation is too difficult for the Institution management to handle,” said a district attorney who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Due to the poor facilities and overcrowding, the Public Prosecution often releases prisoners on bail, especially in cases that involve well-known convicts with permanent places of residence,” said the district attorney. He emphasized that the Public Prosecution is the only entity entitled to imprison any person regardless of the case.
Al-Sheikh is sometimes granted short leaves to visit his family in Benghazi. However, he remains home during leaves because of his and his family’s psychological situation. His children do not know that he is serving a prison sentence. They think he is studying abroad.
“Prisoners face several problems at the institution, like the deteriorating health situation, the dilapidated, uninhabitable building and officials’ negligence of their responsibilities in providing sustenance and health needs. Moreover, failure to categorize and separate prisoners is a very serious problem that we are aware of but do not have the solution to,” says Major Hussein Abdulkader, head of the Correctional and Rehabilitation Institution of Tobruk. He said that a new building was under construction next to the current one, but that construction had been suspended for a long time. He thinks that once this building has been completed, the classification problem will be solved.
Abdulkader thinks that officials have not taken prison management’s requests seriously. “The head of Tobruk Municipality has visited the prison and promised to find solutions to all the problems, but he has not done anything on the ground so far,” he says.
The prison management has submitted its demands to higher authorities, reaching the Prime Minister of the Interim Government, Abdullah al-Thani, in al-Bayda’, but he also has not reacted, according to Abdulkader. “The Institution has received representatives of civil institutions and local community organizations who have expressed their readiness to cooperate and look for solutions to the problems in the prison. However, none of them have provided any practical, tangible solutions, and we are still waiting,” he says.
Lack of funds
The Municipal Council of Tobruk knows that the situation in the prison is inappropriate regarding all humanitarian and living conditions and non-classification of prisoners, according to Nasr Mousa Boualija, a Council member. He accompanied the head of the Council on a visit to prisons to examine their situation and collect their demands for improvement.
“The lack of funds has put us in a difficult situation,” said Boualija. “Besides, prisons operate under an independent Institution that is not subject to the Municipal Council. Therefore, the Council prioritized solving daily life problems and difficulties that directly affect people,” he says.
Nevertheless, he admits that the Council has failed to communicate with the Prison Authority and “apply pressure on it to find solutions, even if partial, under the current situation.”
Imprisonment with criminals constitutes a danger to an individual, especially dangerous criminals who commit murder, drug trafficking, counterfeits, robbery and physical harm,” says Rihab Saad Manisi, criminal psychology professor at Tobruk University. “These various serious experiences can feed the individual’s criminal tendency after release,” she adds.
“The prison environment represents a huge pressure on the individual, and together with special psychological, social and economic circumstances, the individual will bear a huge burden due to being exposed to various psychological disorders,” she said.