Report on the visit to the Târgşor Penitentiary for Women

Thursday - 7 November 2013
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Report on the visit to the Târgşor Penitentiary for Women


On November 7, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Târgşor Penitentiary for Women. The previous visit had taken place on September 10, 2009.

1. General considerations

The Târgşor Penitentiary, located near the city of Ploieşti , in Prahova County , was still the only facility in the country holding exclusively female detainees, both those serving definitive sentences and those convicted by a definitive court order but placed under preventive arrest for investigations in a different case. The Association reminds that the existence of a single penitentiary for women in Romania generates a serious problem in enforcing Article 5[1] of Law no. 275/2006 on the execution of custodial sentences, which stipulates that proximity to the place of residence must be taken into account in distributing the detainees to custody facilities. For women distributed to Târgşor, the criterion of proximity from their home and family was difficult to apply. It’s true, most penitentiaries had sections for women, with their advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage was the (relative) proximity to their family, while the disadvantages were the limited space, with the consequence that detention regimes (maximum security, closed, semi-open, open) could not be separated, the probability of getting work during detention was lower, very few social and educational activities were available etc.

The general atmosphere at Târgşor Penitentiary was relatively relaxed, but some problems persisted for part of the detainees, especially the ones who lived in distant regions. They received few visits, if any, and the number of parcels was proportionally smaller. It must also be said that access to the facility was almost impossible without a car and a visit required at least one night at a local hotel, expenses that few visitors of the detainees could afford.

APADOR-CH asks the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP) once again to take steps to create at least two other penitentiaries for women in the North-Northwestern and East-Northeastern areas of the country.

Under these circumstances, the Association reminds the negative impact that the Order of the Minister of Justice no. 3042/2007, prohibiting mail sent parcels for detainees, had upon the prison population in general and especially upon female detainees at Târgşor. (The Order of the Minister of Justice no. 2714/2008, now in effect, replace the above mentioned order but failed to correct the issue, maintaining the prohibition of mail parcels). At present, persons held under the custody of the ANP are able to add to their prison ratios (usually of poor quality and insufficient) by purchasing food from the in-house shops opened in penitentiaries or fro the parcels they receive directly from their visitors. Both modalities are more expensive for the family than mailing a parcel of food. A rural family with little income can hardly afford to send money to a detainee or to pay for a trip to a remote penitentiary, but would easily afford to send food they produce themselves. APADOR-CH reiterates its suggestion that any limitation of the possibilities detainees have to supplement their food should be enforced only when prison food is substantially improved, both in terms of quality and of quantity. Until then, APADOR-CH asks the minister of justice to amend Order no. 2714/2008 so as to allow detainees to receive parcels from their families by mail.

At Târgşor Penitentiary, each detention regime was applied according to the regulations and daily activities were organized for detainees. Unlike in 2009, when the previous visit took place, detainees were no longer taken out, to community events, and the number of the working women was considerably lower (88 detainees of 700). The prison management said that it stopped the outings for several reasons, one of which was that during the outings, detainees were invited for meals over which there was no control and there was a risk of food poisoning. APADOR-CH considers that outings and contacts with the community increased the detainees’ chances of social reinsertion after release and recommends that the outings should be resumed. The risk of food poisoning could be avoided by informing the organizers of the community events that detainees were only allowed to have pre-packaged food, water or juice.

2. Population, detention conditions, personnel

On the day of the visit, the Târgşor Penitentiary held 706 detainees, including a minor in transit. Their distribution by detention regime was the following: maximum security – 23 detainees (of whom four were categorized as high-risk); closed regime – 154; semi-open regime – 282; open regime – 132 (of whom 8 male detainees who did specific works; preventive arrest – 94, observation/quarantine – 21.

Detainees held under the open regime were free to move freely, unescorted, inside the penitentiary (the doors were only locked during emergency situations), while detainees held under the semi-open regime could move freely during the day (the rooms remained locked from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m.)

Detention rooms looked well: walls were whitewashed; windows were insulated; the walls and floors of the lavatories were tiled; sinks, toilets and showers were in a relatively good state (some showers and sinks required repairs). The downside of living condition was the absence of hot running water and the interruption of electricity from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., a measure introduced in order to cut down the bills. The governor said that he had to pay a 150,000 lei electricity bill and that he preferred to use the money saved by the rationalization of electricity on food. However, since hot water was provided only twice a week, detainees had to heat water with the electric heaters to ensure minimal hygiene. It should be analyzed whether providing hot running water more often would not lead to a substantial decrease of the electricity bill, since heating appliances are known to be among the largest electricity consumers.

At the time of the visit, the Târgşor Penitentiary followed the old standard of 6 cubic meters of air per detainee. According to the data provided by the prison management, by this standard the facility had a legal capacity to hold 709 detainees and a number of 829 beds (10 of which were at the infirmary). The total detention space of the Târgşor Penitentiary was 1,890 sq m, which, divided by 706 detainees, meant 2.67 sq m per person, much under the 4 sq m standard provided by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). There were many rooms where detainees shared a bed or two women slept in two adjoined beds. The Târgşor Penitentiary was overcrowded.

Of the existing penitentiary staff, 158 worked directly with the detainees: 135 in the operative department (male and female), 8 in the medical department and 13 in the reeducation department. The medical office had a permanently employed GP and 7 nurses. A gynecologist and a dentist also came to the facility for consultations and treatment.

3. The activity of the education and psycho-social assistance department; leisure time

At the time of the visit, the social and educational department had 13 employees, among whom: three psychologists (one of them was going to get transferred, at his request), a social worker and two sport trainers (they had little activity after the gym had been closed in order to make room for new detention spaces), four educators, one priest, one technical worker and one chief of department.

According to the prison management, two social workers, two educators and one psychologist would be enough to solve the personnel shortage. The department organized reading groups (the library was rather well kept by a detainee, who also worked for the in-house magazine); general knowledge courses; sanitary education; “The Second Chance” alternative literacy course; and psychological counseling, upon request. The facility also planned to organize qualification courses for tailoring, hairdressing, cooking. The hair dressing studio of the penitentiary had modern equipment and, for the moment, there was only one trained detainee working there.

Other options for detainees to spend their time were to go to the club, to work traditional crafts (stitching, weaving), or to watch TV when electricity was on. Detainees held under the open and semi-open regimes had unrestrained access to the exercise yards; those on preventive arrest and under the closed regime could spend two hours, twice a day, in three separate yards.

Detainees at Târgşor Penitentiary could attend school courses for grades I-IV and V-VIII. About 100 detainees were included in the “Second Chance” literacy program. The facility also worked together with seven NGOs which organized cultural and educational programs with detainees or made donations to improve the prison environment (such as painting or cleaning materials, as the governor explained).

4. Medical care

The medical staff was insufficient. One GP and seven nurses (one of whom was in fact a dental technician) ensured a permanent presence at the facility. A gynecologist came in one day per week and a dentist twice a month. On the day of the visit, the gynecologist had seen 15 detainees.

The medical office had recorded 102 cases of hepatitis C, 15 cases of hepatitis B, 60 mental patients under treatment, 339 chronic patients and 47 cases of syphilis.

The medical staff claimed that there had been no gaps in medicine and sanitary material supplies, but from discussions with detainees, the representatives of APADOR-CH gathered that they were rarely taken to the medical office (once a month) and had difficulty in obtaining the prescribed medicines.

The medical nurse on duty said that medical emergencies were taken for treatment to the Prahova County Hospital , an institution that co-operated very well with the prison management. The non-emergency cases requiring specialized treatment and substance dependence cases were transferred to the Rahova Penitentiary Hospital .

One insulin dependent diabetes patient and one HIV patient were held at the infirmary. The HIV patient was at Târgşor only for a few days, before she appeared before the court. She was currently detained at Jilava Penitentiary Hospital , where had been was transferred as soon as she was diagnosed. The detainee complained that she had to serve her term in a prison hospital where there was no work available there and only very few activities. Moreover, the semi-open regime could not be applied at the hospital. APADOR-CH points out that automatically transferring HIV infected detainees at the Jilava Penitentiary Hospital was a discriminating practice and asks the ANP to put an end to it.

In what concerned HIV/hepatitis prevention programs, the penitentiary was able to provide methadone substitution treatment for former drug users, but none of them applied for the program. In 2012, a single detainee accessed the program, which ended with her voluntarily dropping out.

5. The therapeutic community

The Târgşor Penitentiary also had a therapeutic community for former drug addicts (such communities also functioned at Rahova and Jilava penitentiaries). A therapeutic community was a treatment program with a residential structure, based on the impact of community life and on the support of the group. Therapeutic communities have a family-like hierarchy.

The therapeutic community at Târgşor included 12 women, all former injectable heroin addicts. They shared a generous space, including a large and clean bedroom with a lavatory, a room used as a workshop and an office where they met the psychologist or other specialists. Aside from food (the community did not have a kitchen) the women in the community are self-sufficient. To be admitted in the community, detainees had to be categorized in the semi-open regime and to have at most three years left to serve.

The representatives of APADOR-CH talked to the members of the program and noted they were all very happy to be part of the community. They considered themselves cured, free from addiction and were optimistic about staying away from drugs after release.

The Association commends the fact that the ANP launched such programs for the rehabilitation of former drug users and recommends that they should be extended.

6. Work for detainees

Compared to the previous visit, the number of working detainees was decreasing – a situation that the prison management blamed on the general context of the labor market. At the time of the visit, 88 detainees (of whom 8 males) worked at two in-house locations (the animal farm), at one textile workshop, for an external beneficiary (23 women) and in various in-house services.

Three or four detainees went to work every day outside the penitentiary, without escort, taking the cow herd to the pasture. The detainees did not receive any money (they could not use them on the field, anyway), nor their mobile phones. The prison management said they had not requested them.

The facility planned to take part in a tender to acquire some of the spaces of a former textile factory located in the yard of the penitentiary (it belonged to the former Multiproduct Company, that used to employ detainees). The plan was to restore the textile company and provide work for about 50 detainees.

7. Food, the canteen, in-house shops

On the day of the visit, the lunch menu included bean soup, pork on cabbage (about 20 kilos of pork and bones), sprinkled with fresh dill from the garden of the facility. Detainees who were on diet received potato soup and meat pilaf. For dinner, the menu included rice milk (with fresh milk from the cows kept at the farm)

Detainees said that in summer time they often received fresh salads and the prison management showed that vegetable preserves and pickles were prepared for the winter, from the same source. The representatives of APADOR-CH appreciate that this detail has a good influence on the detainees’ health.

The kitchen was in a well-maintained building (whitewashed walls, stainless steel sinks, hot running water around the clock) which however did not have an efficient ventilation system. That is why windows had to stay open and since windows were on the two opposite sides of the building, they produced a powerful air draft. The lavatory used by the 14 detainees who worked at the kitchen could have been cleaner.

The penitentiary had a canteen seating 100. Detainees ate here in shifts (except the maximum security prisoners), separated by section and detention regime. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to analyze the possibility of serving dinner, too, at the canteen as well as allowing maximum security prisoners to have their meals there.

The food storage contained bags of rice and pasta a few containers of fresh milk from farm.

Besides the prison food and the parcels brought by their families during the visits, detainees could purchase food from the two in-house shops, as long as they had money. The representatives of APADOR-CH visited one of the shops. It was provided with all the products that can usually be found a local grocer’s (processed meat, cheese, preserves, fruit and vegetables, juice, coffee, cigarettes) at prices slightly higher than a hypermarket. Detainees complained especially about the high prices of Cristim pre-cooked food, cakes and coffee. An “Amandina” chocolate cake cost 4.5 lei, a package of Jacobs coffee – 16 lei, one of Amaroy coffee – 25 lei, a kilo of apples – 5.8 lei, a kilo of tomatoes – 4.8 lei, a box of Axion washing cream – 4 lei, an Always pad – 0.7 lei, a portion of Cristim grilled meat – 11 lei and a portion of roasted wings – 7.5 lei.

8. Contacts with the outside

Pay phones and mail boxes were located on the corridors of the sections and in the exercise yards. They were accessible at all times and no one kept evidence of the addressees (a record of incoming mail was, however, kept). Functional info-kiosks were also located on each section.

The facility had rooms equipped for family visits, a special room for young visiting children and a matrimonial room.

Several detainees complained that visits to the community and meetings with other detained members of the family were no longer organized, as they used to be before the new management was put in place (over a year before).

9. The liaison judge

The liaison judge was not at the facility at the time of the visit. Several detainees complained that they notified him about some inconvenient aspects of prison life and claimed they never received an answer.

10. The visit to the rooms, discussions with the detainees.

Section E 4 – closed regime

In Room 41, 17 women occupied 16 beds in a space measuring 5 by 6 meters. The two detainees who shared a bed were related – mother and daughter-in-law – and they claimed they were the ones who asked to be placed together. The lavatory had two sinks, a toilet and a shower. Hot water was provided twice a week, for a few hours, and detainees said there was enough time for all of them to shower. Detainees said they attended school every day, that food was “pretty good” and that they were content with the sanitary items distributed every month by the penitentiary.

The maximum security section had two rooms for detainees who asked for protection and the rest of the rooms for high-risk detainees. All had access to exercise yards, shared according to a timetable. In one of the rooms for detainees under protection, 3 women shared 4 beds. One of them complained about the high prices at the in-house shops but she praised the fact that she often attended classes and various other activities, despite the fact that she was on preventive arrest.

Open regime section

The mother and child section consisted of two rooms with kitchen and bathroom. It had access to an exercise yard used only by mothers and their children.

The visited room was spacious and well kept, with carpeted floor, beds and children’s beds, changing tables and toys. Two detainees were held here: one had a boy of almost one year, about to be sent home to the detainee’s family, and one who had just arrived, with a two weeks old daughter (detainees who had not lost their parental rights were allowed to keep their children until the age of 12 months). Both women had given birth at the University Hospital in Bucharest and said they had been very well taken care of. The children were enlisted with a family doctor. On the day of the visit, the mother and daughter had been seen by the doctor and had received a receipt for formula, because breast milk was insufficient.

The room also had a smaller kitchen equipped with a fridge and a microwave, for the use of the mothers. Mothers had permanent access to the larger, separate kitchen and to the bathroom, which equipped with a washing machine, three bath tubs and special furniture for children.

The rooms, bathrooms and kitchens for the “mother and child regime had panic buttons. The prison management said that all rooms at the facility had such alert systems, but detainees in the other rooms said they did not work.

Room 4/section E1, open regime – 17 detainees in 16 beds

Three detainees here shared two beds placed next to each other. Detainees complained about the quality of the food, the insufficient sanitary materials (5 sanitary pads per month, one roll of toilet paper, two bars of soap), the high prices at in-house shops and the fact that they could not go to work. APADOR-CH reiterates its request addressed to the prison management to identify new work opportunities for detainees. Also, detainees complained about the interruption of electricity between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and about the fact that they were seen by the doctor only once a month.

Room 32/ section E3, preventive arrest – 16 detainees in 14 beds, in a 39 sq m room

Detainees claimed that for a few months in 2012 there had been 19 of them sharing 14 beds. Among the room-mates, there was a woman seven month pregnant who complained that the gynecologist had refused to give her an ultrasound and that she had requested a series of personal objects from the store room (such as a duvet), but her request was denied because an ANP order prohibited duvets and other items that could serve as vehicles for hidden objects to be introduced in penitentiaries. Another detainee complained that she did not receive her personal belongings and that when she went to ask for them, the supervisor insulted her.

In the same room, other detainees said that for each thing they requested they had to fill a form, but there were not enough forms available. Some of them said that although their requests had been approved, the things they asked for were still unsolved.

An ethnic Hungarian detainee said that she had required legal books and crosswords in Hungarian and her request was denied.

Detainees also complained that they could not receive copies of their own records because they had no money to pay for photocopies, that they received their medicines with difficulty and that they were taken to the medical office only once a month. They also said that rats came into their room at night, from the courtyard – and indicated the yard in front of their window, sprinkled with food scrap. The prison management said that rats came exactly because detainees threw food scraps outside and that pest control campaigns took place regularly. The same detainees complained that they did not have written regulations in their room or access to the info-kiosks.

The prison management denied all their complaints, saying that detainees were often recalcitrant and broke the windows themselves, that overcrowding was due to the fact that some spaces were being whitewashed. After that, there were going to be fewer women to each room and each would have her own bed.

The bathroom door glass was broken in Room 32 – since December 2012, inmates said – and replaced by a black plastic foil.

The confinement room

At the time of the visit, a detainee occupied the confinement room. She had been there for nine days. The room was relatively clean but very cold, because there were no glass sheets on the window. The detainee showed signs of a mental condition and had lost count of the days she had spent in there. She knew however that she was going to be let out the next day. The prison management said that she had been sanctioned by 10 days of confinement for a fight with her room mates. At the time of the visit, two glass sheets had been brought on the corridor and were going to be installed at the window of the confinement room.

Conclusions and recommendations:

· APADOR-CH asks for steps to be taken to reduce overcrowding and to allow detainees to maintain their relations with their families and the local community. The Association considers that at least two other penitentiaries for women should be created to cover the regions of Transylvania and Moldova . The Association asks the prison management to allow and encourage detainees to go on outings in the community;

· ANP must urgently solve the problem of medical care at Târgşor, so that detainees are able to access these services on a weekly basis, as it happens in other penitentiaries;

· APADOR-CH asks the minister of justice to annul the order prohibiting detainees to receive parcels from their families by mail.

Other findings/recommendations have been included in the report.

Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu

Dollores Benezic