Report on the visit to the Târgu Ocna Reeducation Center

Friday - 4 October 2013
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On October 4, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Târgu Ocna Reeducation Center. The previous visit of the Association had taken place on February 5, 2004.

General considerations

Since 2009, the Reeducation Center (hence RC) had been separated from the Târgu Ocna Military School and relocated in the vicinity, in a former prison that was renovated for the purpose.

At the time of the visit, 73 male minors were held at the facility. The director said that minors were sent here by court order and they could stay until they turned 18. Most minors were released before they came of age; the established procedure was to gather a committee, once a year (usually at the end of the school year), with the authority to analyze the case of each minor and to decide if release before 18 was recommended. The committee – made up of teachers of the respective minor, a representative of the security agents and the director – also met three months before release to decide the release conditions. The committee had the power to propose either a quicker release, either a postponement of the release until further analysis. This year, the committee postponed by 6 months the release for two of the minors. In one case, the postponement was decided in order to allow the minor to finish the school year. The decisions regarding the time of release date took into account behavior and school results.

Like nine years ago, the facility still examined each case in the absence of the minors in cause, a practice the Association had criticized before. After a decision was taken, it was merely communicated to the minor. APADOR-CH asks the management of Târgu Ocna RC to allow minors to be part of the proceedings and to be heard by the committee that analyzes their case.

Reeducation Centers did not work with liaison judges, like penitentiaries. Any complaint minors had, they could only take them to the director. He was the person that represented both the interests of the minors and those of the employees. Another option was to go to court to contest the decision of the committee, but this was not easy for a minor. There was no independent authority to which minors could go and complain if they felt their rights and interests were overlooked. The new Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code were expected to correct this error and introduce liaison judges in reeducation centers as well.

The director said that most minors remained at the RC for an average of two years and there were no repeated offenders among them, but that he knew cases when some of them ended up later in penitentiaries for minors and youth. They came from the lowest social and familial backgrounds and were very rarely visited during their stay at the RC, which made their social reinsertion after release even more difficult. The director admitted that distance also played a role, minors coming from the eastern part of the country, with poverty making it hard for families to reach them on a regular basis. This way, their connections with the family were lost and, in many cases, when minors left the center the managers needed to contact specialized NGOs to support their reinsertion (provide them with accommodation for a modest amount of money). Institutions proved powerless in coping with the real needs these children had after release. RCs did not keep in touch with the released minors.

The director gave the representatives of the Association to understand that, as a general rule, minors still had their hair cut short upon their arrival at the RC. He argued that they arrived in an unkempt state and as street children they needed to learn hygiene and discipline. The Association pointed out that having one’s hair cut was considered degrading treatment and asked for the practice to be abandoned. The children should have a haircut only if it is medically necessary.

For misdemeanors, minors were sanctioned by reprimands, deduction of credit points, and even confinement for 10 days (several minors had been sanctioned this way over the last year for hitting their mates or for gradual acts of indiscipline). Minors also received incentives – credit points or praise in front of the other children. During confinement, minors were still allowed to go to school.

Security agents wore their uniforms inside the RC and plain clothes when they accompanied the minors outside.

After the Găeşti RC was closed, minors there were transferred to Târgu Ocna, so the total population of the center increased to 113 (the highest ever). The director said that the average number of minors held here was 80-90.

The center had its own barber’s shop and a laundry center, where the clothes and bed linen were washed.

Food

Food was provided by the National School for Penitentiary Staff. The RC did not have a kitchen, but did have a canteen, where the cook aided by five minors served the food. The minors took monthly shifts at the kitchen. The kitchen staff had passed all necessary medical tests. The center had no budget for food. It was the school that provided about 4 lei/day worth of food for each minor at the RC.

The center had a greenhouse for vegetables, half of which were used for the food of the minors and half were sold to the staff, for money used to buy school and workshop materials.

Although the center had plenty of land, it didn’t keep any animals. The director admitted that keeping animals would have had therapeutic effect on minors, but the facility did not meet the legal requirements for animal farming.

The representatives of the Association visited the canteen at lunch time. The menu consisted of vegetable soup and cabbage with a meatball. Minors at the canteen said that they had cheese, ham, egg and biscuits for breakfast and that each of them received half a bread loaf for every meal. The canteen, supervised by video cameras, was clean and well kept.

 

The social and educational department

This year, the RC had organized three summer camps. The institution had enough vehicles to transport minors and enough money for fuel. Every month, the facility organized 2-3 outings, painting sessions or other activities in the community of Târgu Ocna, where minors were received with benevolence. The staff said that minors were allowed to take part in these activities only if they behaved well. The facility provided the clothes for these outings from donations from foreign NGOs. The representatives of the Association commend the openness of the management for all types of cooperation with external partners. The Association points out that for a better social reinsertion of the minors, they need to take contact with the community. If those who don’t behave well are deprived of the opportunities their mates have, they may become angry and revolted.

The walls of the center were decorated with paper quilling arrangements, which were also offered for sale during various events in the community.

The center had a basketball field, a soccer field and a ping-pong table.

The curriculum included education for health, the alphabet of the good citizen, education for family life, healthy lifestyle and literacy. A minor  who managed to complete a program and received the qualification “very well” received 25 points of credit.

The RC had a library – a room containing an impressive number of books that minors were allowed to borrow and take to their rooms. The librarian said that minors borrowed mostly religious books or school reading and that he had created a program for them, promoting reading. Since some of them could not read, the librarian read to them aloud and encouraged other children to form reading circles and read to the others.

 

Târgu Ocna RC also had a very large festivities hall, with a spacious auditorium, with chairs, a set of drums and an audio system. It was the venue for the opening of the school year, birthday parties and parties where minors at the center invited children from the community.

A TV studio was used to prepare closed circuit programs on past and present activities at the RC and successes of the minors.

The computer room had 11 computers bought with PHARE money.

A workshop for pottery and painting was also available and the objects crafted by the minors in the course of time had been exhibited at the Olăneşti public library. The representatives of APADOR-CH talked to the four minors who were at the workshop at the time of the visit. They complained that when their parents gave them money, it went through the administration and each time part of it was retained, without any explanation. The minors confirmed that they had various activities throughout the day and were not locked in their rooms. Asked whether they were ever mistreated, physically or verbally, by the agents, the minors answered with reservation, saying that only “bad” children were punished. It was not their case, obviously, since they were allowed to spend time at the workshop.

Minors who asked for help or who were in trouble received counseling at the psychological office of the facility.

 

School

School classes were held by four tenured teachers and a substitute. Primary school classes were taught to two groups, of 8, respectively 7 minors. The minimum number of students in a class was four. In this special education system, elementary school courses (literacy) were completed in one school year and then students were promoted into the 5th grade as soon as the second year. There were two 5th grade classes, with 13 students each; one 6th grade class, with 10 students; one 7th grade class, with 12 students; and one 8th grade class, with 5 students. For high school, 3 students went to the technology high-school nearby (one in the 9th grade and two in the 10th grade). Four minors who, according tot heir age, should have been in high-school, remained at the RC as assisting students to classes reflecting their real level of knowledge (assessed by the RC). The school director was very firm when he said that all minors needed to be assessed at the RC because the formal level of education did not match their knowledge; he offered the example of 5th grade children who were in fact illiterate.

The representative of the teachers said that all minors at the facility were attending school. The teachers were employed by the Ministry of Education. Some of them were paid per hour, as special education teachers. Classes had between 4 and 12 students (in accordance with legal provisions regarding special education). The graduation diploma did not mention that school was completed in a reeducation center.

Those who refused to go to school lost other privileges, such as outings. The director said that this sanction determined them to resume classes, eventually.

Those who arrived at the RC after school began could not be enlisted for the respective school year, but the management found a solution so that such minors were not left out. They were allowed to assist to classes, without being assessed or receiving grades. This was a fortunate solution, because it enabled them to keep in touch with school. As a reward, those who assisted to classes were given credits, and for each 30 credit points they received a reward report (praise in front of the other students). After several such reports, they could be proposed for early release.

The classes were clean and well equipped, with enough desks and chairs in each room. The facility planned a new 3,700 sq m building for a school that would observe the standards of the Ministry of Education.

The RC director said that by accessing European funding, the facility was able to send most of the teachers and staff to professional training and exchanges abroad.

Classes took place between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. On the day of the visit, there were no classes because a tenure examination had been organized on the premises.

The RC had a separate budget line to purchase school textbooks and other materials; the director said the students had all the learning materials they needed.

 

The medical department

The RC had a medical office but no doctor. The medical staff consisted of 5 nurses who worked in shifts to ensure a 24/7 presence.

The nurse on duty on the day of the visit said that the most frequent health problems were skin conditions and recurring colds. There had been some cases of scabies, caught during transfer, but the disease was currently held under control. A single child suffered from hepatitis and was under treatment for it. The minors were tested for hepatitis at the Târgu Ocna Penitentiary Hospital. The records also showed two patients who required a diet. One HIV infected minor formerly held at the RC had been transferred to the Jilava Penitentiary.

A quarantine room was improvised whenever the situation required; otherwise, there was no space especially designed for isolation.

There was no psychiatrist working at the RC. The minors were generally checked by a specialist before being brought to Târgu Ocna, or they could see a psychiatrist at the Rahova Penitentiary Hospital. The nurse said that some of the minors did show signs of mental disturbance and that the center should have hired a psychiatrist.

The nurse said that they were well provided with medicine and that the doctor saw an average of 20 patients per day. Condoms were no longer distributed at the RC – formerly, they used to be placed in boxes, on each section, to be used freely.

APADOR-CH decries the fact that no doctor is employed at the RC and asks for the situation to be urgently remedied. Also, as the nurse pointed out, minors with psychiatric problems should be identified and treated accordingly, including by employing a specialized doctor at the center.

 

The visit at the facility

Târgu Ocna RC had two detention sections for the minors with the administrative sector just outside them; a separate building for the school; and a building accommodating workshops for various activities. From the point of view of detention conditions, this facility was an example. Everything was clean and very well kept. The two detention sections had about 395 square meters and a maximum capacity of 98 persons, so that the 4 sq m standard was observed. Given that minors spent much of their time outside their rooms, that they frequently went outside the facility, they all went to school and were involved in a series of extracurricular activities, it may be said that conditions did facilitate the objective of the RC: the reeducation and social reinsertion of the minors.

At the time of the visit, the center employed 32 officers and agents for security (on the 34 existing positions), 5 medical staff (7 positions available), 35 officers and agents of the social and educational department (of 41) and 7 teaching staff (out of 10).

The visit to the rooms

Both detention sections were on the ground floor, and in fact the whole facility consisted of one-level buildings.

The representatives of APADOR-CH visited a few rooms of each section.

In section 2, room E2.5, measuring 71 sq m, was furnished with 18 bunk beds and accommodated 14 minors. Like in every other room, each minor had his own wardrobe. The walls, beds, mattresses, floor were all clean and well kept; conditions here were among the best in the country. The director said that many infrastructure investments had been done with the help of donations from foreign partners. Minors said hot water was provided three times a week, for one hour, and cold water was provided around the clock. The lavatory had a sink, a Turkish toilet cabin and a shower. All the minors in that room attended school and spent the rest of the day in various other activities – educational or recreational. They were not locked in their rooms after dinner and lights out hour was 11 p.m.

Room E2.4 of the same section shared the same excellent conditions. But minors here complained about the quality of the food, although they confirmed that they did receive fresh vegetables from the greenhouse of the facility. For breakfast, apart from the biscuits, margarine and tea they also received an egg every day. The room measured 47 sq m and accommodated 8 minors in 12 beds. Two of the minors said they were sanctioned by confinement several times for fighting their mates. Several said that they were beaten by the agents for minor misdemeanors, such as merely arguing with each other or making noise in their room in the evening. The minors described in detail how they were taken to the yard, handcuffed to a metal fence and beaten with clubs. One of them said that, after the incident, he asked to be taken to the forensic doctor to obtain a certificate but was not allowed to. He also said he was repeatedly denied release. The same boy said that one time he was beaten at the medical office for breaking a window, but the agents told the nurse not to mention it in the records. The minors said that such incidents also happened on the corridors, where the video cameras recorded every move and could support their statements. It was said that the aggressive behavior started a year ago, when a new agent transferred to the RC from Miercurea Ciuc Penitentiary, who usually took the night shift. The minors said the director was informed about the incidents – since he was the only one they could complain to – but that he tolerated the behavior of his employees and, even worse, took part in it, offending and threatening the minors.

Room E2.1 accommodated 8 minors in 8 beds. They all confirmed the aggressive behavior of the new agent who worked in the night shift. One of the boys said he stayed in confinement for 10 days, without going to school. Minors said they were beaten in group by the agents, and that three months earlier it happened right in front of the director.  They described the objects used for the beating in detail: multilayer plumbing pipes covered in tape in order not to leave marks on the body. The minors explained how they tried to report the incidents to the ANP but had their letters torn apart by the agents.

Here, the sink was inside the room. A separate door led to the toilet. The occupants said hot running water was provided three times a week, for one hour. One of the minors said he worked in ditch clearing and corn picking. The minors confirmed that they were provided with vegetables from the greenhouse and that the money brought by selling the remaining vegetables was spent for dishwashing detergents. Some of the children had skin rashes and said they were caused by the mattresses (in this room, mattresses were older). They complained about the quality of the food and said in general they were fed vegetable soup, little meat on the main course and one egg for breakfast. The room was clean, well maintained and naturally lit. The bed clothes were changed once a week and washed at the in-house cleaning center. The TV set in the room was out of order. All minors said they attended school.

The lavatories in the rooms in section 1 only had a sink and toilet cabin, and showers were in a separate room. The shower room was clean, with new tile floor and walls and ten showers. It was planned to build a shower room for section 2 as well, and give up the showers in each room.

In section one, the representatives of the Association visited room E1.5, measuring about 27 sq m and accommodating 7 minors in 8 beds – some of them double bunks. The minors complained about the taste and content of their food. They confirmed what their mates at the workshop had said – that about 15 lei were retained every time their families sent them money. Aside from school, they had activities on the sports fields and in clubs, they were not locked in their room during the day; doors were locked only at night. One of the minors had a visible skin rash and said he had received treatment for his condition at the medical office. The lavatory included a sink and a toilet, both clean and disinfected. Another minor said that 5 months earlier, he was beaten by the night shift agent because he had a fight with a colleague. The system was the same one mentioned by minors in section 2: handcuffed in the yard and hit with a plumbing pipe covered in tape. Moreover, as an extra punishment his credit was reduced and he had to spend 10 days in confinement, without being able to attend school every day. Everybody confirmed that the night shift agent was violent with “the worst” of the minors. They had complained to the director, but no steps were taken. They also said that they rarely received sanitary products, which did not last them enough. The minors said that a year earlier one of the children tried to hang himself. After the incident, all minors were lined up in the yard and the boy was reprimanded in front of them for his suicide attempt. Later, at the psychological office, this statement was denied by the staff and the director. They said there was no suicide attempt at the center, either the year before or in previous years.

Regarding the 15 lei retained from the minors’ money, the director said the sum was indeed retained, but only once, and was used for the formalities required to get an ID card.


Minors at work, correspondence, other rights

Minors over 16 took part in various cleaning activities for the community – an easy work for which they were paid. The Târgu Ocna RC had even had a contract with the town hall for works such as ditch clearing. The salaries went to their personal accounts at the RC, with 50% for the center and 50% for the minors. Part of their share was given to the minors to spend and part was kept for the time of release. For each two hours of in-house work, minors received 1 point of credit.

The center also had an in-house shop, where prices were similar to shops in the community.

The mail box was located in the courtyard, where minors could access it with no restrictions.

The confinement room measured about 15 sq m and had 4 beds (2 double bunks). At the time of the visit, it was unoccupied. The room had a clean lavatory, including a shower. A window opened into the corridor, so the occupants of the room could be kept under observation at all times. Usually, minors were sent to confinement one at a time.

One pay phone was located in each section, locked in a wooden box. Every day, after lunch, minors had a scheduled phone time. They could talk for as long as they wanted or as long as their phone cards lasted. Minors could not check how much credit they had on the cards – no such system was installed on the phones and there were no info-kiosks at the center. The only way to check was at the financial department.

The visitation sector was in a separate building, outside the detention space. Visits were always open and there was no limit to the number of visitors a minor could receive. The room was under video surveillance, and so was the visitor’s waiting room. The parcels brought by the visitors were inspected in their and the receiver’s presence.

 

Conclusions and recommendations:

– The representatives of APADOR-CH ask the management of Târgu Ocna Rc and the ANP to check the very serious accusations made by minors at the center against the new agent who works mainly in the night shift and his alleged beatings and take urgent steps to prevent such violence once and for all.

– The Association asks for the enforcement of the laws prohibiting confinement as a sanction for minors. Confinement from the group would only be acceptable if the minors in cause still attended school every day, participated in all other activities, and were isolated only during the night.

 The Association recommends that a doctor should be employed by the center with celerity.

– APADOR-CH asks the management of the center to give special attention to minors with mental conditions, providing correct diagnosis and treatment and employing a psychiatrist to examine the occupants of the center as often as necessary.

Other conclusions and recommendations have been included in the report.

 

Dollores Benezic                                                                                  Doina-Adelina Boboşatu