The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a lengthy report on living conditions and health care in Egyptian prisons Tuesday which found that “living and health conditions in prisons are not in line with the minimum components of the right to health, both on the level of access and quality of health services, and the competence of the healthcare staff,” which lead to the endagerment of detainees’ lives.
The report sought to circumvent the lack of accountability stemming from the absence of oversight on prison conditions, which “facilitates all forms of violations and nonfeasance” according to EIPR researcher Heba Wanis, the author of the report.
“The study examines health conditions in 16 prisons and police stations in Egypt through interviews with 37 people, including former inmates and prison doctors, lawyers and experts,” said Wanis. The report not only focuses on living conditions and health care, but also on discrimination in access to care, treatment of critical cases, healthcare for women and children, psychiatric care and the fundamental determinants of health.
The report itself is damning, concluding that regard for mental health “was completely lacking from the health system of detention facilities, despite its importance, as indicated by testimonies of former detainees”. For women and children, levels of care varied widely, “but were nonetheless uniformly inadequate and at times inappropriate”.
In terms of physical health conditions, the report noted that food, toilets, hygiene, lighting, ventilation, and exercise “lacked the requisite support from the prison administration”.
“The lack of hygiene and maintenance on wards, cells, and toilets, as well as overcrowding, had a negative impact on the health of prisoners. In light of insufficient health services, prisoners find themselves in a vicious circle of poor health conditions due to the impact of the daily conditions on their health.”
The report then outlines specific findings, comparing them to guaranteed rights for prisoners granted in applicable laws.
Article 27 of the Prison Regulations, for example, states: “The physician shall examine every prisoner immediately upon placement in the prison, or on the morning of the next day at the latest, and document his health status and the type of work he can undertake.” The report, however, found that “none of the  respondents in this research were examined by a physician upon detention in any facility nationwide”.
“It became clear,” the report continued, “that it is not standard procedure to examine detainees even when they are abused or tortured prior to their admittance.” The report also notes that some detainees never once saw the prison physician throughout their entire period of incarceration.
Wards were also overcrowded, and although the Ministry of Interior Decree 81/1959 declared that “each prisoner, male or female, shall receive the following items: a bed, a mattress, a bed sheet, a pillow, two pillow cases, one woolen blanket during summer or two during winter, a mat, a bowl, two plates, an aluminum spoon, and a comb for women,” prisoners are crammed into overcrowded cells and sleep on the floor.
One prisoner interviewed for the report, named as K.S., incarcerated at Al-Isti’naf Prison, said that 13 people were crammed into cells only big enough to hold one person. Furthermore, in Wadi Al-Natrun Prison, “the rooms are no bigger than 3 by 15 metres but hold 33–34 persons,” according to another prisoner, listed as M.S.
The report concludes with various recommendations for prison authorities. Among them are the development of a legal mechanism to ensure access to healthcare when in need, providing for the needs of women prisoners and their children, facilitating procedures for medical release, permitting independent agencies to monitor detention facilities, and the integration of detention facilities with the larger health care system in Egypt.
There has been an overwhelming strain on Egypt’s prisons recently, as an estimated 41,000 people have been arrested following Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July 2013 ouster.
Allegations of torture have surfaced as prison ranks swell, but the Ministry of Interior has repeatedly denied the use of torture and has even invited independent rights groups to tour their prisons.
In March, the prosecutor general ordered unannounced prison visits. A statement released after the visits noted that in Abu Za’abal Prison Number Two, the committee attested that all prisoners are “detained according to the law”; however, the number of prisoners detained is over that of the prison’s capacity, where, in some cases, cells have double the amount of prisoners and poor ventilation and restrooms.