"For Sale in the Prison Canteen": A Report on Poverty Inducement and the Impact of Economic Inflation inside Egyptian Prisons

Press Release

25 September 2018

EIPR published a report entitled “For Sale in the Prison Canteen: Dispossession and Poverty Inducement at “Aqrab” Prison”. The report sheds light on a systematic pattern of abuse across Egyptian prisons that does not receive adequate attention: economic exploitation of prisoners through the marketisation of their basic needs inside prisons.  Over the past few years, prison authorities in Egypt has been increasingly selling prisoners’ most basic needs—those that the prison authorities are required to provide by law—at exorbitant prices for the sake of the prisons’ canteen’s profit. The report investigates  how the economic burden of providing for the prisoners has shifted to their families; and how that burden grew bigger on account of several waves of economic inflation following the flotation of the Egyptian pound at the end of 2016 and subsequent austerity measures..

This report is based on desk and field research, and a review of relevant national and international legislation. The project began as an investigation into the impact of economic inflation on life behind bars., throughout the research process 15 in-depth interviews were conducted between May and October 2017; during the course of which prisoners’ relatives would repeatedly respond with complaints about the canteen. The report then snowballed into a focus on the canteen at “Aqrab” prison as the main case-study, but the report also investigates the pervasiveness of the canteen within the lives of inmates across different prisons--including Tora Farm, Qanater, Minya and others.     

The first chapter gives a general background on the economic impact of the IMF loan within prisons by tracing the local and global history of prison austerity (and the marketization of prisoners’ basic needs for prison profit). It explores how the IMF loan within prison was experienced as an inflation of what were already inflated canteen prices to begin with; and how this acute economic inflation was experienced by prisoners and their families.

The second chapter provides a general background on the history and existing violations at “Aqrab” prison. It situates the prison’s policies since its inception in 1993 within the larger trend of maximum security policies towards the beginning of the twenty-first century. The chapter proceeds to focus on violations around prisoners’ right to receive visits (and how it relates to their access to their basic needs): and includes a timeline of visit bans  and violations at “Aqrab” within the past three years based on families’ testimonies and complaints to the National Council for Human Rights. The timeline traces the violations to the present moment where a “visit registration” system has been set in place specifically at “Aqrab,” thereby precluding prisoners from their right to receive regular visits and effectively limiting visits to a prison with over 1000 inmates to 15 visits per day.

Lastly, the third chapter, deviates from existing literature on “Aqrab” by asserting that the economic exploitation taking place at the prison is also a form of the many abuses inflicted by the prison authorities; and that it amounts to the intentional poverty-inducement by the Interior Ministry against  the “Aqrab” prison population. By focusing on the case of the canteen in “Aqrab” prison, the report concludes with recommendations to end economic exploitation at “Aqrab and introduce legal safeguards to prevent the Interior Ministry from carrying out similar practices of impoverishing and dispossessing inmates across other prisons.