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Madagascar: Penal System
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Strategic Considerations > Penal System


The Malagasy Penal Code is based primarily on French penal codes and procedures and has been somewhat influenced by Malagasy customary law. The Malagasy Penal Code affords the accused most of the rights and protections granted under French and Western laws. The most severe punishments are death and forced labor for life.

Madagascar has three levels of courts. Lower courts are responsible for civil and criminal cases carrying limited fines and sentences. The Court of Appeals includes a criminal court for cases carrying sentences of five years or more. The Supreme Court functions as the highest court in the country. Also, there is a separate and autonomous Constitutional High Court that reviews laws, decrees, and ordinances and monitors elections and certifies their results. A military court has jurisdiction over all cases that involve national security.

Madagascar has a nationwide prison system. Each province has a central prison for inmates serving sentences of less than five years. At the seats of various courts, there also are at least twenty-five lesser prisons for individuals serving terms of less than two years and for prisoners awaiting trial. Courts at the local (subprefecture) level maintain jails for lesser offenders serving sentences of up to six months. Women normally serve long sentences in the Central Prison (Maison Centrale) in Antananarivo.

Conditions in Malagasy prisons are harsh. Cells built for one often house up to eight prisoners. Family members of prisoners need to augment the inadequate daily food rations. Prisoners without relatives often go for several days without food. Inmates also suffer from numerous medical problems that are not usually treated, including malnutrition, infections, malaria, and tuberculosis. Children normally live in prisons with their mothers, and female inmates engage in prostitution in collusion with guards.

Data as of August 1994

Last Updated: August 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Madagascar was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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