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Reviewed by:
  • Human Rights in African Prisons
  • Damien Ejigiri
Sarkin, Jeremy, ed. 2008. Human Rights in African Prisons. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press (first published in South Africa by HSRC Press, Cape Town). 254 pp.

Jeremy Sarkin, editor of Human Rights in African Prisons, is a visiting professor of human rights at Fletcher School at Tufts University, United States, and senior professor of law at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town. He has utilized essays on the topic written by pan-African scholars and other experts to constitute the book. Among them is Ghana-born attorney Victor Dankwa, the former chair of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As an Oxford- and Yale-educated lawyer and a former law professor, Dankwa was the first special rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention in Africa. This publication is a collection of essays that chronicle the circumstances of African prisons and an examination of how various agencies have handled such modalities as pretrial detentions, general healthcare, lack of space (overcrowding), and the circumstances of imprisoned women and youngsters.

All the contributors deal with areas in which they specialize. For example, of the ten chapters, Dankwa discusses overcrowding in African prisons, and causes and measures for amelioration, and offers a conclusion, with guidelines and solutions. An area about which international bodies like Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have often had concerns is that of pretrial detention and human rights, especially since these organizations hold that one is innocent until properly tried and convicted.

Attorney Martin Schonteich, a senior legal officer of national criminal justice reform at the Open Society Justice Initiative of New York, wrote the essay for chapter 5 of the book, which deals with pretrial detention in the context of human rights. The issue of children in African prisons, chapter 6 of the publication, was contributed by law professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. To provide an overview of the imprisonment of women across the African continent, Johannesburgbased senior policy analyst Lisa Vetten provided chapter 7, “The Imprisonment of Women in Africa,” which spells out the logistics of imprisoning women.

Topics also present in the edited volume are a brief history of human rights in prisons of Africa (chapter 2, by Stephen Pete); challenges to good prison governance in Africa (chapter 3, by Chris Tapscott); rehabilitation and reintegration in African prisons (chapter 8, by Amanda Dissel); alternative sentencing in Africa (chapter 9, by Lukas Muntingh); and the African Commission’s approach to prison (chapter 10, by Rachel Murray). [End Page 124]

The first chapter, written by Sarkin, gives an overview of human rights in prisons worldwide, which discusses the importance of prison research, why the edited volume was produced, the historical context of the book, resources that are available, prison governance, and prison reform in general in African countries; its conclusion provides useful suggestions, and a reminder that “prisons have always been a key focus of those interested in human rights, the rule of law, and a host of other matters” (chapter 1).

To assist general readers and researchers, the book contains several useful tables (page viii); acknowledgments (p. ix); and a glossary of acronyms and abbreviations (page x). Useful information is provided by each contributor, who ends each essay with suggestions for future research and facts that can be probed further by others. References supporting the contents of the book are found on pages 226–244, and pages 247–254 constitute the book’s index.

Damien Ejigiri
Southern University–Baton Rouge


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pp. 124-125
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