In Iraq, under the government of Iraq, the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Defence all operate separate prisons, detention centres and holding facilities, notwithstanding that by law, MoJ and its Iraqi Corrections Service (ICS) should have full authority over all detention facilities. As for the juveniles’ detention facilities, they were moved under the Ministry of Justice during July 2018.
The ICS do not have any strategic plan or a road map for the reform of prisons in Iraq including juveniles’ detention facilities. During the UNODC mission in November 2018, the ICS stated that the general situation of prisons under the MOJ is extremely difficult in terms of severe overcrowding (some prisons having over 150% occupancy), inadequate infrastructures, failure to meet the basic needs of prisoners. Overcrowding and overall poor detention conditions lead to health issues in prisons and are contributing factors to violent conditions that are harmful to the physical and mental conditions of prisoners. Furthermore, Iraqi prisons do not offer proper rehabilitation and/or reintegration programmes. It was mentioned that prisoners are only benefiting from psychological support, but it is not clear what kind of support, who is providing it and given the limited prison staff combined with overcrowding. According to statistics provided by the ICS during November 2018, only 23 detention facilities are operational with a capacity of around 26,000. The total number of prisoners is at least 33,000 with 29,068 are sentenced prisoners and 3,932 inmates in pre-trial detention.
Iraq’s juvenile justice system also needs urgent attention. Under the current Child Law, children can be held responsible for criminal actions from the age of nine and the maximum sentence for a child is 15 years. Presently, 1,113 children are in detention, both sentenced and pretrial. Of these 1,040 are boys (960 sentenced and 80 in pre-trial detention) and 83 are girls (9 sentenced and 73 in pretrial detention). The number of juvenile detention centres is very limited; there are five in Baghdad with a restricted number of places and one of these five institutions is an observation centre for juvenile offenders only for boys in pretrial detention and all of them are simple buildings lacking the needed infrastructure and rehabilitation/education programmes. Children are also detained in adult prisons either upon request of their families to be closer to home or due to lack of space in the juvenile detention centres. According to September 2018 figures, 473 children (419 boys and 22 girls) are held at the Basra prison for adults, most of them sentenced for their association with ISIS.
Thus, prison reform is an area that needs immediate attention. In order to develop a viable approach for the country, a comprehensive research/study is needed as a first step to understand the complexities of the situation, the prison system and the status quo of detention facilities under the MoJ. Such a study will shed light on the legal and regulatory frameworks, the organizational structures, prison staff, physical infrastructure, security, prison registers and data as well as assess prisoner well-being, including that of violent extremist prisoners and children associated with violent extremist groups (this includes accommodation, access to basic services, sanitation, rules governing prison visits, exercise/recreation, education/vocational training, rehabilitation and disengagement programmes as well as reintegration programmes after release.