Report in the visit to the Penitentiary for Minors and Youth in Bacău

Thursday - 3 October 2013
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On October 3, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Bacău Penitentiary.

 

1. General considerations

 

Although the facility was earmarked as a Penitentiary for Minors and Youth three years ago, at the time of the visit it held minors, young detainees, adults (of both sexes) and persons on preventive arrest from the counties of Bacău and Neamţ.

 

The total number of detainees at the time of the visit was 862, of whom 56 minors (9 female and the rest male), 326 young men (18-21 years), 247 adult males (55 serving under open regime, and 192 on preventive arrest) and 233 adult females (55 under open regime, 106 under semi-open regime, 45 under closed regime, 5 under maximum security regime and 22 on preventive arrest).

 

The distribution of space by section was the following: Section 1 – 951 sq m and 312 detainees (3 sq m/person); Section 2 – 750 sq m and 245 detainees (3 sq m /person); Section 3 – 169 sq m and 46 detainees (3.6 sq m/person); Section 4 – 270 sq m and 71 detainees (3.8 sq m/person); Section 5 – 303 sq m and102 detainees (2.9 sq m/person); and Section 6 – 303 sq m and 78 detainees (3.8 sq m/person). The occupation rate in each of the 6 section was around 125%, with each detainee having about 3 sq m of personal space, compared to the 4 sq m standard recommended by the CPT (the Committee for the Prevention of Torture). But since many rooms had triple bunks, the feeling of stifling lack of space was sometimes overwhelming.

 

Because the facility was an agglomeration of buildings with little space in between them, some of the sections failed to observe the legal provisions regarding detention regimes. At the open and semi-open sections for minors and young detainees for instance, the doors of the rooms remained mostly locked, instead of unlocked as they were supposed to. The prison management said that the structure and organization of the buildings did not allow for a clear separation between the different categories of detainees. In fact, most detainees at the Bacău Penitentiary were held in conditions similar to the closed regime, irrespective of how they were categorized.

 

The lack of space was very obvious in the exercise yards. They were narrow and crammed in between the buildings, only a little larger than rooms, partially covered with tin and containing nothing but a pay phone.

 

The prison management did not foresee any possibility to expand the yards, although in the proximity of the penitentiary an old military base reamined unused. The governor claimed that the ANP took some steps to take the base under administration, but to no effect. On medium term, the prison management planned to rehabilitate Sections 1 and 2 (for young detainees and persons on preventive arrest), with the support of the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism (the so-called Norwegian Financial Mechanism). The project was in the pre-feasibility study phase. The new section – which would probably require the demolition of the two old ones – was planned as a modern facility for the open and semi-open detention regimes.

At the time of the visit, Sections 1 and 2 were having their windows re-installed, after being removed for the summer (most of them being broken by detainees, the prison management said).

 

60 detainees went to work, mostly for in-house services. Eight female detainees were hired by the city hall to help maintain green urban spaces and 10 male detainees worked at the prison farm. The farm included a vegetable garden providing raw material for prison food and kept 400 pigs.

 

At the time of the visit, the penitentiary didn’t have a liaison judge because the former judge had ended his mandate and the newly appointed one had started his with a medical leave. The governor had asked for a temporary replacement. APADOR-CH considers that the absence of the judge could have a negative impact on the way the rights of detainees were guaranteed.

 

The visit made by APADOR-CH came two weeks after the penitentiary priest was arrested after being caught smuggling mobile phone for detainees. The governor pointed out that a riot attempt took place after the incident. Adult detainees in whose rooms the mobile phones were found instigated the minors on the floor below to riot. The governor claimed that adult were the main beneficiaries of the priest’s phone trafficking, therefore the instigation was a vindictive move. Even if the riots died out, the prison management made some changes after the incident, moving some detainees from their rooms, so that the adults were no longer able to send messages to minors and young detainees.

 

The facility did not have an intervention squad. Each shift had a group of five agents trained for special interventions. The so-called “masked” guards were not seen on the premises during the visit.

 

The Bacău Penitentiary was staffed by 210 officers and security agents (on 220 existing positions); 12 officers and agents at the social and educational department (on 22 existing positions); 2 doctors (on 5 positions) and 7 nurses (out of 12).

 

The prison management considered that the main problems of the facility were lack of space, lack of funds and lack of specialized staff for the social and educational department – given the fact that it held the most vulnerable categories: minors, young detainees and women.

 

 

2. The visit to the penitentiary

 

2.1. Food for detainees

 

The kitchen area was in good state: clean, with freshly painted walls, well kept food recipients – and smelled of parsley, which was being cut for the soup, in the room next door. 17 female detainees worked here. The lavatories, the storage rooms, the fridges and the other auxiliary spaces were all acceptably clean.

 

Lunch had just been poured into plastic cans to be taken to the rooms. First course: potato and noodle soup; second course – potato stew with meat. The meat was in the stew, not served by portion, as in other penitentiaries, to make sure it was distributed to every detainee. According to the kitchen chiefs, cheese pie was on the menu for dinner. Each detainee received a bagged loaf of white bread per day.

 

Because of the overcrowding, none of the sections had a canteen and detainees had to eat in their rooms. This was an inconvenient, especially in the case of minors.

 

Detainees added their own food – brought in by their families or bought at the in-house shop – to penitentiary meals. The kiosk sold a variety of products at supermarket prices. Detainees complained, however, that prices were too high.

 

 

2.2. The medical office

 

Only two doctors were employed by the penitentiary, although there were five positions available. Only 7 nurses were employed – instead of 12, as provided by the personnel scheme. Nurses worked in shifts, to ensure 24/7 presence at the facility. The two female doctors, who were present at the time of the visit, worked full time. Every week, a dentist came to penitentiary to check and treat detainees. .

 

One of the doctors ranked the most frequent health problems occurring at the facility and said that mental conditions came first. 33 detainees were diagnosed with mental illnesses and received treatment, but the doctor said many others required a psychiatric assessment.

 

Heart conditions were the second most frequent ailments and digestive problems came third, she said. However, many detainees suffered from skin conditions – which the doctor blamed on poor hygiene and lack of education, especially in the case of minors and young detainees who arrived at the facility without even the most elementary notion of personal hygiene.

 

Even if this was the case, in many of the rooms visited by the Association detainees complained about bedbugs and the representatives of APADOR-CH could witness how they “hunted” the bugs on the walls of the cell. The governor said that disinfestations had proven useless, because the bugs kept coming in, brought by transiting detainees, in their luggage.

 

Doctors claimed that they saw about 200 detainees everyday. A set of medical tests was taken by all new arrivals at the penitentiary – often turning positive results for hepatitis B or C.

 

Asked whether condoms were distributed to prevent STDs – because the facility held two HIV positive detainees and 20 hepatitis patients – one of the doctors said that homosexual relations among detainees were not encouraged. Such an attitude is unacceptable from a doctor. The medical staff, if anyone, should be pushing for prevention. The governor admitted that homosexual intercourse happened anyway and that condoms would be useful, but unfortunately there were no funds available for them.

 

The doctors said they were supplied with medicines for the usual needs, but many detainees complained that they did not get their treatment and that, in general, they did not receive much attention at the medical office.

 

Six detainees were held at the infirmary. One of them had difficulty moving and required a cane – another inmate helped him get around. The infirmary room was neat, with freshly pained walls and single beds. Detainees said conditions and food here were good. The lavatory was relatively clean – a separate room with two sinks and mirrors, a shower and a Turkish toilet cabin (a problem for the detainee who used the cane)

 

 

2.3. Detention sections

 

The different floors of Section 1 held young detainees under open regime, detainees on preventive arrest and closed and maximum security detainees. Room 21 – semi-open regime – held 15 detainees in 20 beds (triple bunks). The room looked appalling, with damp walls and traces of former plumbing problems. But new windows had just been put in place and the governor said the room was going to be painted as soon as all the windows were installed. The lavatory had two Turkish toilet cabins, two sinks and a shower cabin. Detainees here had hot running water around the clock – a technical error, the governor said, because the water circuits inside the building were not entirely known. The explanation for this situation was amusing: the plumber was a former detainee who was released and now there was no one to replace him. In other sections, hot water was provided only three times a week, for one or two hours in the evenings.

 

Detainees held under the maximum security regime complained that they were not taken out of their rooms for any activities. One detainee said that since July he had not taken part in any activity at all and that the only “courses” he had followed were “one about the ozone layer and one about Ceauşescu”. Another detainee complained that he could never see the psychologist in the two years he had been held at the penitentiary.

 

Room 24 (24.50 sq m), for persons on preventive arrest, held 8 detainees in 12 beds. They all complained about the bad food and the lack of variation – always potatoes. A detainee who had been there for 9 months said he was only allowed to receive one visit, in a separated cabin, just because he could not take part in social and educational activities. He thought that the sanction was unjust because the penitentiary gave him no chance to gather points and credits from his participation in educational programs.

 

Section 2 held detainees on preventive arrest, in transit and under open regime. Room 23 (quarantine) held 14 detainees in 18 beds. Some of them complained that they were not allowed to bring vitamins from home, although the prison food was very poor. They complained about the lack of social and educational activities. Those on preventive arrest complained that they could not receive open visits. They received visitors only in separated cabins, despite the fact that the state of preventive arrest could last for long periods of time. The representatives of the Association met a man who had been on preventive arrest for two years.

 

In this building, hot running water was provided only twice a week. However, the rooms and lavatories looked cleaner – detainees said they had painted their walls themselves and some rooms indicated that their occupants took interest in organizing and maintaining the place. 

 

In room 34 (33 sq m, semi-open regime), holding 10 detainees in 18 beds, the walls were recently painted and the general aspect was neat. Detainees were unhappy with the food and the lack of vitamins – one detainee wanted to receive an apple with every meal, like in London, where he had been held for four months, while another wanted to work and complained that the doctor declared him unable for work because he was insulin-dependent, despite the fact that, as a free man, he used to work, diabetes and all.

 

Male minors were held in Section 3. Rooms were tidy and walls were freshly painted, or even decorated with landscapes and different characters. Beds were neatly made and the minors followed a military discipline. Each time someone came into the room, the occupants had to line up and wait to be “inspected”. Most of them were rather tense, even when they were left only with the representatives of APADOR-CH. In room 6, four minors were held under the closed regime. They said they had social and educational activities every day, but none of them went to school, for various reasons. The same situation could be found in other rooms where minors were held under semi-open regime or on preventive arrest. Many said they had filed a request to go to school but were not included in any class. Most of them had barely graduated grades 3-5.

 

According to the chief of the social and educational department, minor detainees who ended up in a prison in the middle of the school year could not continue their studies because the school record did not accompany them. However, some of the minors had been at this facility for more than one year and were still not in school. The prison management said that either they could not prove that they had attended any school year at all or they had already passed the level of schooling provided by the penitentiary.

 

 

The confinement room

 

For minor misdemeanors, minors received various sanctions, from the prohibition to receive a parcel to “confinement from the community”. Both the prison management and the minors avoided to name this type of sanction “confinement”, because confinement is prohibited by the law in the case of minors. However, it was used and, judging by the look of the confinement rooms, it could be categorized as degrading and inhuman treatment.

 

The three confinement rooms on the ground floor of the building were small, dirty, with no natural light or airing, barely spacious enough for two bunk beds. A Turkish toilet was hidden in lateral niche. Two of the rooms were occupied at the time of the visit. Room 39 held one young man in a visible state of overexcitement. He said he was glad to be by himself (he said he had asked to be moved in there) because he did not get along well with any other inmate. The room was cold because it had no windows, just a small grid covering the small opening above the beds. The young man served his sentence under the maximum security regime. Room 38, as miserable as the former, held two young detainees who were not enlisted for any school courses, and one of them claimed he had never attended school in his life.

 

Female detainees were held in Sections 4, 5 and 6 – all in the same building, the newest of the facility.

 

The rooms were clean but most of them overcrowded. In room 34 (open regime) 12 female detainees shared 12 beds; in room 45 (open regime), 17 female detainees shared 17 beds. In this building, the doors of rooms from the open and semi-open regimes were left unlocked, but detainees preferred to stay in their beds because it was too cold. They complained that the ones who slept in the upper bunk (they had triple bunks) happened to fall from the bed and injure themselves. They also said that the hot water schedule from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. did not allow all of them to shower. The women’s section had a hairdresser’s shop, where one of the detainees provided service for the others. The ground floor was for the open regime section. Seven of the women detained here were at work in town and other 20 worked at the kitchen.

 

Room 44, for open regime, held 9 female minors in 10 beds. Although some of them had been at the penitentiary for over one year and a half, they had never been included in a literacy class. Most of them had finished elementary school but were still unable to read and write. They said they had filed applications to attend school but to no result. Their room seemed to be the only one in the women’s section to be in a derelict state – dirty walls, broken lavatory doors, a foul smell from the toilet, cold. Mattresses and bed clothes were equally filthy. In fact, all detainees at the facility complained about the bad state of the mattresses.

 

In Section 5, for semi-open regime, adult detainees complained about the bad food and the lack of social and educational activities. Most of them said they had completed a course for commercial workers, and that was about it. Detainees received personal hygiene products once every three months and said those who were not supported by their families /other visitors had to rely on the help of their inmates.

 

Detainees also complained that they were not allowed to receive personal items such as blankets or window curtains to decorate their rooms. The governor explained that such items were expressly prohibited by an order of the ANP (no. 2714/2008).

 

At the time of the visit, the heating system of the penitentiary was not in function, although the temperature was very low and rooms were cold. The governor strived to get donations to buy blankets for the cold season, because there were no funds for bed clothes. Under such circumstances, detainees asked to bring their own covers from home, but the regulations prohibited it.

 

Section 6 held detainees on preventive arrest and under the maximum security and closed regimes. The four detainees in room 601, maximum security, said they were not visited by anyone, had no money to buy anything, and the personal hygiene products provided by the penitentiary were often insufficient. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to ensure that at least detainees who did not have any visitors were provided with the necessary sanitary materials.

 

2.4 Correspondence, contacts with the outside

 

All sections had payphones on the corridors, provided by two different telecommunications operators. Detainees had personal phone cards which indicated the credit each time they were introduced into the phone. The existing Info-kiosks were no longer functional.

 

Each building had a mailbox. The prison management gave assurances that no evidence of sent mail was kept – only of the in-coming correspondence.

 

The visitation sector had two rooms with separators (five cabins in each room) for the adult detainees. Minors received open visits, in a large room with tables and benches. A minor could be visited by two adults and three minors at a time, 8 times per month. Their visits could last for 3 hours. Other categories of detainees were allowed 2 hour long visits, 2-4 times per month, depending on detention regime and the credit points they had obtained.

 

 

2.5. The social and educational department

 

The department was understaffed, given the number and type of detainees. The service was provided by three educators (of the 9 existing positions), one psychologist (out of 5), no social worker (out of 5) and agents filling the place for educators, based on what was called “daily appointment” (meaning that they were detached on a daily basis to supervise the various social or educational activities on the schedule).

 

School classes for detainees at the Bacău Penitentiary were taught by 15 teachers detached here by the School Inspectorate. At the time of the visit, the representatives of APADOR-CH could not see any on-going classes. The prison management claimed that courses for grades I-IV and V-VIII were held, but the representatives of the Association were left with the impression that the classrooms they visited were not used very often. The school also had a gym and a sports teacher. The gym was not being used either at the time of the visit. According to the chief of the department, 100 students were enlisted in grades I-VIII and in “Second Chance” programs for those over school age. The number of students was too small compared to the total number of minors and young detainees at the facility.

 

The chief of the department said that the female minors who complained of not being able to go to school were in fact too few to create a new class – since the law required a minimum of eight students. Moreover, those who had already completed their elementary education could not be enlisted for secondary school because the penitentiary organized secondary education only for male students.

 

The representatives of APADOR-CH could not understand exactly if this was a local decision or was based on a legal provision, because with a benevolent interpretation of the law on special education one could organize classes even with less than eight students in penitentiaries and other detention facilities for minors. Also, the fact that some minors were not accompanied by their school records when they arrived at the penitentiary was not a good enough reason not to include them in school activities. They could at least be allowed to assist until their situation was clarified.

 

This penitentiary was in charge with minor female detainees from all over the country (9 detainees), therefore the issue of their being able to attend school required urgent improvement. The governor said that the small number of educators and the weak activity in the social and educational department were due to an old personnel scheme – not yet adapted to the new profile of the penitentiary, which was now a facility for minors and youth. The chief of the social and educational department said that she was running many activities with detainees: civic education, health education (with a component of sex education but mainly focused on elementary hygiene), the universe of knowledge, etc.

 

The carpentry workshop at the penitentiary was also out of work, because there was no carpenter to instruct the students.

 

Two activity clubs functioned at the Bacău Penitentiary. One of them, in the women’s section, organized a course for commercial workers. At the library, three female detainees wrapped some Christmas cards they had made themselves. The detainees said they often did paper quilling, a recreational craft, and the results of the activity could be seen on the walls of the club. Gym equipment lay unused, for lack of space – the governor said, in the main room of the club. The club in the men’s section was organized in a former shower room and still had tiles on the floor and walls, as well as visible water pipes. No activities took place in any of the clubs at the time of the visit.

 

 

3. Conclusions and recommendations

 

APADOR-CH appreciated the efforts of the new management to ensure the functioning of the facility despite budget constraints; the improvements in the rooms indicated a certain progress. However, the penitentiary was overcrowded and hygiene sometimes precarious. The insufficient involvement of minors and young detainees in school activities and educational programs remained a major problem. These detainees spent too much time in their room or in exercise yards with no occupation and no chance to learn to do something useful.

 

The Association asks the prison management to pay special attention to the following aspects, which could improve the current situation:

 

1. To involve a larger number of minors and young detainees in a permanent form of education throughout their detention, by interpreting the law in their favor. Other facilities have succeeded to bring minors with no school records into class by making a summary assessment of their education level (for instance Târgu Ocna) and a professional exchange program with that penitentiary could be useful;

2. To improve conditions in confinement rooms by installing windows and cleaning the place;

3. To repeatedly sanitize the rooms in order to get rid of bedbugs;

4. To intensify efforts for the appointment of an interim liaison judge to fill for the one on medical leave;

5. To diversify and improve the quality of food, about which all detainees complained, saying it was tasteless and it lacked vitamins

6. To distribute condoms to detainees in order to prevent the spreading o disease that was already present at the facility – HIV, hepatitis.

 

        

APADOR-CH asks the management of the ANP to support the penitentiary for:

 

1. Reducing/eliminating overcrowding by any possible means: investments for the expansion of the penitentiary, using abandoned military barracks in Bacău or in Neamţ county as detention buildings;

2. Improving the capacity of the social and educational department by attracting expert psychologists and educators into the system, to work with the minors and young detainees.

3. Reconsidering Order no. 2714/2008 that prohibits bringing bedclothes to detention facilities, as long as the state cannot provide a minimum of decent bed clothing for detainees.

 

 

Dollores Benezic                                                                                    Doina-Adelina Boboşatu