Report on the APADOR-CH visit at Galați maximum security penitentiary

Friday - 14 June 2019
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On the 20th May 2019, two APADOR-CH representatives visited the Galați Maximum Security Penitentiary. The most recent visit of APADOR-CH  took place in 2012, according to the report posted on the organisation’s website.

The Galați Penitentiary is situated in the city and occupies a complex of old buildings which have undergone improvements in the last years, but not sufficient to ensure proper detention conditions. The prison administration admits that the penitentiary continues to be overpopulated, with an occupation rate of 138%, despite de number of detainees having decreased substantially in the past few years through the application of the law on compensatory appeal (legea recursului compensatoriu)

The lack of staff (only 70% of the positions are filled) and tackling drug and phone traffic inside the penitentiary have been the two major challenges in the past few years, as announced by the administration. To this we can add uncertainty regarding available funds for future projects and even for salaries – according to the director, the budget for 2019 provides money for salaries only until October the current year Discipline and a rigorous application of rules are the two principles often emphasised by the director, who says that this is the only way he managed to stop certain illegal practices in the penitentiary.

Compared to the 2012 visit, the penitentiary no longer has an exterior section. The detainees in the open regime are complaining that this is not respecting their detention conditions. Also, no detainees work outside the penitentiary, the only works performed by detainees being the administrative tasks inside the penitentiary. For this, there are approximately 100 detainees used in a rotation formula, according to the administration. The reason invoked is the lack of guards and the fact that accompanying a detainee at work would involve reassignment of guard personnel, which would lead to an unjustified increase in the detainee’s work price. The administration claims they ‘rotate’ approximately 100 detainees, out of 400, only for administrative work.

General aspect and accommodation spaces

From a total of 1031 inmates in 2014, Galați Penitentiary reached 478 inmates at the moment of the visit, accommodated in a single building, in 77 rooms with a total legal capacity (of 4sqm/inmate) of only 344 spaces. 80% of the total is represented by maximum security and closed regime inmates, which is why the administration believes the penitentiary should be defined by this type of regime, with open and semi-open regimes being exceptions.

The penitentiary employment structure has 378 positions in the scheme, but only 281 are filled. The number is higher than in previous years, but not sufficient, the director complaining that the structure has been functioning without an accountant for several years. From these, 196 are working in detention safety, 17 at psycho-socio-educative and 14 in the medical sector.

The cells in the 8 detaining sections are identical and have 17,10 sqm each, plus a sanitary facility of 5,98 sqm. In general, each cell contains 8 beds, with them being grouped in two bunk beds , the third row having been removed in 2018 (as the administration stated) or in February 2019 (according to the inmates’ statements). Very few rooms were completely renovated, as in repainted and restoration of the sanitary groups, and these rooms also hold extradited inmates from foreign penitentiaries.

However, all mattresses have been changed in 2015 and some windows were repaired. In 2016, the phones were moved from the hallways into the inmates’ cells. Due to the penitentiary being connected to the city’s water network, there is a permanent water supply, and hot water three times a week.

At the penitentiary’s entrance there have been installed, in 2018, two containers, the detainees receiving sector-, where baggage and body check take place, as well as receiving bedding. The space is clean and at least until special buildings will be built, it is a civilised solution for organisation.

A football court has been arranged in 2018, in front of the detention building, with synthetic grass. This adds to the already existing football court behind the walking courts which is actually a bigger yard with sand, not equipped as a football court, but used as one.

The building with the detaining spaces is comprised of two attached buildings, with access stairs, one of them being renovated at the moment of the visit.

Ground floor – Cellblock E1 (maximum security) and Cellblock E8 (maximum security and increased risk)

First floor – Cellblock E2 (quarantine and medical unit) and Cellblock E7 (open regime)

Second floor – Cellblock E3 (imprisonment before trial) and Cellblock E6 (imprisonment before trial and closed regime)

Third floor – Cellblock E4 (open and semi-open regime) and Cellblock E5 (closed regime).

At the time of the visit, the penitentiary had 7 women admitted in two cells, semi-open regime, being in transit from other penitentiaries. The women had cleaned the rooms, the floors were freshly cleaned at the moment of the visit and they said they benefit from good conditions, but they were eager to go back to the penitentiaries they had come from because they were feeling isolated in Galați.

The food preparation area

On the day of the visit, the menu provided, as written in chalk on a board positioned at the kitchen entrance consisted of bean soup and mash with pork, and a vegetable soup option for those with dietary requirements. In the morning, the menu consisted of cheese, marmalade and tea. The inmates receive one egg every 10 days or 5 times in 10 days due to dietary requirements. Milk and yogurt are also available in the menu for either morning or dinner – for diabetics. For dinner they had cheese pasta or cabbage with bacon, depending on the food norm. Inmates who were working on serving received some bacon as food supplements.

The kitchen area was full of dense steam from the eight working cookers and, as a result, the walls were full of condensation, mould and moisture. The floor was freshly cleaned, and it was wet. The kitchen administrator said that the hood’s ventilator cannot deal with all the vapours and that is why there is always steam in the area.

The food had pleasant aspect and smell, the boiled pieces of meat were portioned and were mainly consisting of lean meat. In the kitchen area there are 13 inmates working, 5 in the morning and 8 during the rest of the day.

The administration claims they have been investing in maintenance work for the kitchen in the past year, painting, installing floor and wall tiles, bought two new cookers, yet the constant steam from the food preparation makes these investments less visible.

The medical area

Galați Penitentiary has 3 general practitioners, a dentist and 10 nurses. The job scheme contains a position for a psychiatrist, but during the last two contests organised for filling it in, no one registered. The infirmary is situated on the first floor, in the quarantine area. APADOR-CH representatives discussed with the available general practitioner, with the nurse and the dentist. These claim that the daily number of consultations that take place at the infirmary is around 60 general consults and 10 dental consultations. The appointments are made on a room basis, but they provide emergency consultations as well.

According to the medical staff, the most common health issues among the inmates are related to mental health, in a much higher percentage than the one in evidence and treatment – which is only 20% of the total number of inmates. Following are gastric issues, liver diseases, and heart problems. The penitentiary has approx. 10-12 cases of hepatitis, 1-2 cases per month of violence between inmates and very rarely, self-mutilations.

In 2018 there have been two deaths in the penitentiary: one heart attack and a person deprived of liberty who committed suicide. The association emphasises the recommendation to administration to intensify the psychological services offered to inmates, especially in the immediate period after the sentence is declared.

The medical staff declared there is no problem with the supply of medicine or other materials, that inmates even have condoms at their disposal, bought with the unit’s funds, which they can request from the medical staff – and they do – and that the overall medical services in the penitentiary are good.

The association appreciated the medical staff’s responsibility, and through distribution of condoms, they limit the spread of sexual transmitted diseases.

Serious conditions which cannot receive medical care in the penitentiary are transferred in the city’s hospitals (the military of the county hospitals) or at Rahova Hospital-Penitentiary.

Visit of individual cellblocks

The aspect of the sections is uniform, with no visible differences between detention regimes, the only exception being Maximum Security and Risk regimes, where opening the doors for APADOR-CH representatives was done in the presence of guards. They had full equipment, with identification numbers on their chest, helmets and video cameras to record interventions.

On the day of the visit, renovation was happening in several rooms. There renovations are part of the 2019 maintenance programme, during which the administration says they will paint all 77 rooms, will install toilet tanks and will replace the joinery with insulated windows.

Each section has a designated ‘club’ room, with new furniture, individual desks, where different socio-educational activities are held. On each corridor there is an info kiosk where inmates can check their card allowance and can consult legislation and legal status.

In one of the cells from Cellblock 2 there was a barbershop arranged, where an inmate, qualified through a course taking place in 2018 in the penitentiary, is giving haircuts to inmates from Cellblock 2. During talks with inmates from other units, some complained that they do not have access to a barber, despite a barbershop existing in the penitentiary, and they have to improvise and cut their hair in the bathroom.

The administration argued that they do not allow free circulation of inmates from other units in unit 2 (quarantine), to the barbershop, because it can cause disagreements between inmates or it can facilitate traffic with illicit objects. Additionally, the barbershop is placed in a highly circulated area, close to the infirmary and the quarantine cells.

All cells have telephones which can make connection both with the outside and with the inside, as a way of alerting the guards.

Cell E7.6 – open detention regime – 8 persons/8 beds. Inmates have a sanitary facility comprised of a Turkish toilet, a shower and a sink, all with a relative clean aspect. They said they have hot water twice a day, but sometimes it is not enough for everyone, especially since they to administrative work.

Otherwise, they declared that the food tastes good and there is meat everyday – some of them are working in the food block – and that the phone works enough, from 8 AM. after the wakeup call, until 9 PM.

Another cell from block E7 – open detention regime – 8 persons/8 beds. The space left between the beds is small enough to be filled if every inmate stands up beside their bed. The inmates complained that they do not benefit from enough fresh air, being taken outside in the walking courts only between 2 PM and 6 PM and that hot water is insufficient for all of them. Asked if they declared these deficiencies at the delegated judge, the inmates said no, because they believe nothing will be solved and even more, they will encounter inconvencies if they do.

Cell E8.4 – maximum security – 6 persons/6 beds. These inmates had no complaints about the penitentiary conditions.

Cell E8.3 – risk for penitentiary’s security – 6 beds/5 inmates, have also declared that the conditions in Galați Penitentiary are better than in other penitentiaries, and even that the prices at the shop are lower than in other penitentiaries.

A cell in unit E1 – maximum security – 6 beds/4 persons. The sanitary group was deteriorated, and the inmates had several complaints:

  • It takes them a week to be taken to the doctor
  • The price for one minute of telephone talk is higher than in other penitentiaries – 60 bani;
  • They are not allowed to dry their clothes inside the cell – administration argued that there is a drying facility where the washing machines are, and inmates get their clothes already dry. Hanging the clothes around the cell would be unhygienic and would lead to the formation of mould;
  • They are taken outside in the courts for walking only between 8 and 10 and there are no toilets in the yards;
  • That, although the penitentiary has a walking court equipped with sport facilities, inmates do not have access to them, and they are taken out for football only once a week and even then, not on the new court, but in an older walking court which has sand on the ground
  • One of the inmates declared that despite not having any incident report in the last 6 months, his detention regime has not been changed. He believes he is still held in maximum security or risk detention regime so that penitentiary employees can get salary increases.

The administration argued that inmates do not have access to the court with sport facilities because they can hurt themselves/ each other, and access to the new sport facility is considered a reward for those in less severe detention regimes. The inmates from maximum security and risk regimes can aim to reach that stage, in time, through suitable behaviour.

Cell E1.7 – maximum security – One of the inmates in the cell seemed to not be feeling well, he said he has a toothache. He requested to be taken to the dentist, but he was yet to be taken. He also had a badly wounded heel, caused by the inmates from the Giurgiu Penitentiary, where he was coming from and for which he received medical treatment at Galați. The inmate was trying to obtain a definitive transfer from Giurgiu to Galați, on the basis that his cellmates at Giugiu harass him and also, Galați would be closer to his home – which is Tulcea. He was complaining that his request was not being approved.

Cell E1.2 – maximum security – 5 persons/6 beds, the inmates claimed that the penitentiary’s store prices seem too high and the food provided is of poor quality. They say that generally, they are taken to different general knowledge courses every month, but they rather wish to obtain a qualification during the free time they have in the penitentiary.

During the visit, in one of the unit’s clubs, there was an ongoing first aid exam in which, according to the supervising teacher, more inmates participated but there were only two left.

The isolation cell is on the same section, in renovation at the moment of the visit. According to the administration, the room has not been used in a long time.

In cell E1.6 – maximum security – with 6 beds, from which only one had a mattress, there was a young man temporarily accommodated, being in transit at Galați. The cell was in an advanced state of degradation, as well as the sanitary facility. The young man had nothing in his cell except the empty mattress on the bed and he seemed to be in a tense mental state. Asked for how long he has been living in these conditions, he replied that it has been a few days and after a few more he was going to leave.

The penitentiary administration argued that the young man has been aggressive, broke the TV and was accommodated alone because he was not on good terms with other inmates. The officer on duty had two local newspapers on his desk which were going to be given to the young man, as to ensure the right to information.

The association believes that in such cases the inmates, especially those from vulnerable groups, must be paid extra attention to and should be, as much as possible, accommodated in rooms with other inmates.

In cellblock E3 – preventive arrest, there were several young persons, one of them also placed alone in a E3.8 cell. This cell had a TV, and the young man staying there said he has been staying in the same room every time he is in transit at Galați, for the past four months. He said he is taken out for walking everyday starting with 12 and once a week for football, also alone. The young man seemed to be in a stable mental condition.

A room in cellblock E3 – preventive arrest – 8beds/8 persons. The inmates said they have socio-educational activities, courses twice-three times a month, access to the library, but have complained that sometimes the tap water has bad odour and that the Turkish toilet in the sanitary facility does not have a tank and they have to pour water in the toilet with improvised vessels. The hot water, running for one and a half hours every day, is insufficient for all of the inmates. Some said they do not complain about the conditions out of fear of repercussions. All eight said they would appreciate if the penitentiary would provide, at least on the corridor, a fridge where they could keep perishable food, as the storage space in the cells is small and unsuitable for keeping vegetable and fruits – especially during summer. Because they have access to the store only once a week, they have to buy more food (for the entire week), thus needing suitable storage space.

The administration argued that there is no legal basis to install fridges for inmates and that as long as they are being offered hot meals every day, the inmates have no reason to store food in their cells. The director admits that this used to happen, but drug trafficking started happening through the fridge in the hall, with the guards turning into waiters for the inmates.

Cell E6.7 – closed regime – 6 persons/ 8 beds. Degraded sanitary facility, mould in the cell. Inmates complained of bedbug infestation, one of them even showed multiple bites on his legs. One of the inmates complained that despite being diabetic, he is not receiving treatment, but a cellmate contradicted him saying that he probably does not need a treatment and that is why he is not receiving any. Another inmate said that the penitentiary store sometimes has expired goods, that he suffered from food intoxication caused by some eggs he bought from the store.

Asked about this aspect, the store clerk replied that the goods are not expired but they can become altered if kept in unsuitable conditions in the cells.

The inmates added that they often take part in different courses if they sign up, but they were unhappy that on the new football court, with synthetic grass, only inmates from the penitentiary team are allowed to play.

A room in cellblock E6 – closed regime – 8 beds/7 persons. The cell and especially the sanitary facility were in a very advanced state of degradation, full of mould. The inmates complained about bedbugs, the bad food which lacks variation, the mould in the cell and in the sanitary facility, the lack of a toilet tank and that beyond the cell’s windows there are some boards installed that do not let air get through – which is why their windows were taken out. They also underlined that the penitentiary does not have a gym, and in the walking court where sport facilities are installed, they had access during a training, which can only be taken once by every inmate during their detention time. The inmates were also unhappy with the lack of a barber, with the high prices from the shop, by the fact that they are not allowed to work outside the penitentiary, by the redundancy of the education courses – they argued that an inmate who takes high school lessons is actually an illiterate.

The penitentiary administration declared it is the first time they heard about the existence of bedbugs in some cells that have been visited by APADOR-CH representatives. They said pest control came not long ago, but the bedbugs might have come through an inmate’s luggage, from another penitentiary. Regarding the second window net, the administration claims it was setup in order to stop traffic with illicit objects between cells.

Units E5 and E4 – closed regime holds those inmates who do the administrative work in the penitentiary: kitchen, green spaces, carpentry workshop.

Cell E5.4 – closed regime/ administrative work – 8 beds/8 persons – Inmates said they had bedbugs up until a few months ago, but they used a liquid substance and now they got rid of them. They complained that because of the amount of work, they do not have time for other activities, but they said they are often taken out at on football court, the one with synthetic grass. They were also saying that the shop has expired food.

The association believes the inmates are discriminated against, with the administration offering better conditions to those extradited, solely on this criterion.

Cell E4.2 – closed regime – 8 beds/ 6 persons – inmates stated they benefit from conditions typical for ‘Romanian jail, can’t compare it to those in Germany or Italy’. The inmates here also complained about not being given access to the walking court with the sport facilities, that they are not taken out to the new football court and that the food is tasteless.

The walking courts are basically multiple cages stuck together, placed at the end of the building with the detaining section. They have no facilities, the inmates who go out in the walking court have no other activity than walking from one side of the cage to the other. The football court with the sand is situated behind the walking courts and its area will be reduced as a church will be built.

Visits’ section, prison store and the chapel

The visits’ section has 6 visit booths fitted with a divider and 4 tables without dividers. In the package the inmates are allowed to receive from family, liquids are excluded on the basis that in the past years they discovered forbidden substances in water or juice bottles – such as alcohol.

The penitentiary chapel, a small but very well-arranged building with the help of the orthodox priest, employee of the penitentiary, will be moved into a bigger construction that will built in the penitentiary’s yard, where the walking courts are now. The latter will be rescaled and expanded – claims the administration – by reducing the size of the sand football court. The church that will be built, says the priest, will be funded by the archbishop’s money. A bigger church is needed because the priest cannot hold all religious services in the chapel that is now too small.

The prison store was well-stocked and spacious. The items’ prices were displayed in sight: water (2l) – between 1.8 and 3 LEI; juice bottle (2l) – between 4 and 6 LEI; Jacobs coffee (250gr) – 12.55 LEI. A green lettuce – 4 LEI; a bunch of spring onions – 2 LEI; oranges – 5 LEI/kg; apples – 3 LEI/kg. Inmates are not allowed to order pizza or any other cooked food, although this was allowed in the penitentiary for a while. The administration banned it, saying that drug trafficking was happening through this.

Some of the inmates told APADOR-CH representatives that hygiene in the intimate room is lacking. This contains a bed, TV and fridge, has a sanitary facility with shower and indeed, it does not strike with its hygiene. The mattress and the bedding were in particularly poor condition.

The administration argued that each inmate brings bedding anyway and they cannot force the inmates to clean the room after the visit is over.

School and socio-education sector

There is a school operating in Galați Penitentiary (in a separate building from the detaining building) which has 1-8th grade (divided in 6 classrooms) and two high school grades – 9th and 11th. On the day of the visit, the secondary cycle lectures have already taken place in the morning. APADOR-CH representatives could observe only one technical drawing class in the 9th grade, where a room full of inmates were qualifying in joinery. Teachers come from the city and are paid by the School Inspectorate. The classrooms where classes are held have the same kind of furniture as the clubs from the cellblocks. The average number of inmates who participate in education courses is 70 per year.

The school has a sanitary facility which is in better condition than the ones in the cells, and a courtyard made of concrete where a ping pong table was placed.

One inmate in the drawing class complained that there are no practical activities in the joinery workshop, only theoretical notions. The Administration explained that practice can happen only in the presence of a qualified instructor because the workshop has sharp objects which need supervision, and only in the final two weeks of teaching.

The socio-educational sector seems to be the best working one at Galați Penitentiary. The responsible staff managed to organise the activity of the 3 social workers, 3 psychologists, 3 educators and 2 sports supervisors (although the job scheme is bigger here too) in such manner as to ensure, to all inmates, the possibility to get involved in at least one educational activity per month. Moreover, during the discussions with the inmates, the majority admitted they do not lack this kind of activities, they only wish they had the possibility to undergo more qualification courses.

The physical activity schedule, which most of the inmates complained about, is the following, made on regimes:

  • Young people and those in open regime – twice/week
  • Closed regime – once/week
  • Maximum security and risk – twice/month and only on the football court behind the walking cages, where there are security guards.

The staff responsible for the socio-educational sector claim that not offering access to everyone on the new football court acts as motivation for those in maximum security and risk regimes, to behave well and change their detention regime faster.

The penitentiary has a project for the construction of a sports hall, and they are waiting for NAP’s approval.

In the last years, the barbershop has been created as a result of sponsorships and an inmate from unit 2 has obtained qualifications for the job. A tailor shop has also been created through a sponsored project, but it only works for the penitentiary, the same way as the joinery.

The service also contains a TV studio with closed circuit and a library equipped with a generous number of books, received from donations (circa 2000 books). An inmate, who is the library responsible, gathers articles from the inmates, types them into a computer and edits a penitentiary magazine every three months.

The rights and freedoms judge

The rights and freedoms judge declared that from 150 complaints received in the past year from inmates, the majority are appeals to the execution of the sentence. Regarding the complaints about the living conditions, many of them are ‘preformulated’, the judges considers, the inmates invoking the right to choose: some demand money as compensation for the poor conditions, others ask to be moved in appropriate conditions instead of winning days. In the judge’s opinion, only about 5% of the Galați Penitentiary has suitable detention condition, considering  the allocated space of 4sqm/inmate.

Other requests made by inmates before the  judge target the ‘administration’s oppression’. The judge says that inmates sign up for audience particularly before the commissions for conditional release and accuse the administration of bad faith. They usually complain about requesting different things from the penitentiary administration which they failed to receive.

Every Thursday, 4-5 inmates are signed up for  audience. The judge estimates to approve app. 5% of the cases and the he generally did not have cases where decisions were invalidated before the court.

Some complaints targeted officers’ interventions in the detention cells and aggressions that followed. The judge says he partially admitted those complaints as inmates were, to a certain extent, provoked. However, the place’s specificity cannot be overlooked.

Investment plans

The penitentiary plans on constructing two new buildings: one to extend the already-existing one, attached to it through modern walking-courts; and the second building situated at the entrance, replacing the containers that are there now for receiving the detainees. The new building’s capacity would be of 150 spaces. At the moment, the projects are in the phase before the feasibility studies. According to NAP’s engagements, these building should be finished in 2022.

The short-term investment plan as well as the budget grant solely the room renovation, renovation of the penitentiary fence (which has fragile portions), renovating the roof of the thermal plant and few renovations at the school building.

Conclusions and recommendations

The association mentions that compared to 2012, some things in the Galați Penitentiary changed for the better, but the overall detention conditions and the overpopulation of the cells are yet to be solved.

Additionally, what is appreciated is how the socio-educational sector manages to involve a big number of inmates in education activities. It would be desired to focus more on qualification courses in order to offer inmates an advantage for when they are released and return in the labour market.

Increased attention should be given to psychological assistance, especially since many inmates suffer from mental illnesses.

The administration’s efforts to stop drug and phone trafficking – which is said to have been happening at a large scale before 2017- are understandable and appreciated. However, some decisions seem to be adopted as to make detention even harder for the inmates, acting as in corpore punishment, besides the already poor conditions. These effects seem to show in a slight increase in aggressions and self-aggressions among inmates, according to the 2018 activity report – 68 cases in 2018 compared to 48 in 2017, especially with a decrease in the number of inmates (what should be noted is that the official numbers seem to contradict the predominantly positive information provided by the medical staff of the penitentiary when they discussed with the organisation’s representatives). According to the same report, there was a dramatic increase in violence against staff, from 1 in 2017 to 14 in 2018, which can show a hidden nervousness among inmates.

The association’s recommendations for the penitentiary staff:

  • Pay more attention to the hygiene of the cells to prevent bedbugs from appearing;
  • Reassess the decision regarding forbidding the use of fridges on the hallways for the inmates – despite penitentiary offering them hot meals, inmates need a daily share of fresh fruits and vegetables (which are not being offered by the penitentiary) and keeping them in the fridge, especially during summer, is essential;
  • Increase hot water allowance from 1-2 hours to 3 hours, at least in the cells with 8 inmates so that all of them have time to wash themselves;
  • Try to find solutions to keep inmates busy through paid jobs, at least for those in open regime who do not need very strict supervision;
  • Reconsidering inmates’ access to sport activities, as in increasing the number of activities.

Other recommendations can be found inside the report.

Livia Popa

Dollores Benezic

Translator: Amalia Tihon