Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza [BBC profile] on Thursday announced that the government will release prisoners in order to address the overcrowding in national prisons. At the end of May the number of prisoners was around 10,000 detained in 11 prisons that had a total capacity of only 3,500, according to a human rights group. The pardon, announced [IOL report] by the president to coincide with the country's fiftieth anniversary of independence, will free prisoners who were sentenced to a prison term of five years or less. Other groups who are also being set free are women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, prisoners older than 60 and younger than 18 and those who suffer from terminal illnesses. Death sentences of prisoners who were sentenced before capital punishment was abolished in 2009 will be converted to life sentences and those who received life sentences will be given a 20-year reduction. All other prisoners who received sentences less than the life sentences, but more than five years, will receive a reduction by half. These measures to relieve prison overcrowding, however, do not apply to prisoners sentenced for rape, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, threatening state security, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Prison overcrowding is a common problem across the globe. Last week UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang [official profile] urged [JURIST report] the government of Malawi to address the problem of prison overcrowding and improve the human rights condition in the country. In April, South Africa announced [JURIST report] that it will issue pardons to 35,000 offenders in order to ease prison overcrowding. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] in February urged Latin American countries to improve their prison conditions and called [JURIST report] for a reduction of prison population after a fire killed more than 300 inmates of a prison in Honduras. In August, Venezuela announced [JURIST report] its plan to reduce its prison population by 40 percent. The prisons in the US are facing the same problem. In May 2011 the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to address the problem of prison overcrowding.