On July 28, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Penitentiary for Minors and Youth (PMT) in Tichileşti.
The previous visit had taken place in June 2009 and the situation was now different, first of all because a new building was inaugurated in January, considerably increasing detention space and solving the overcrowding problem at PMT Tichileşti.
PMT Tichileşti had two detention buildings, an older one and the recently inaugurated unit. The detention space was now large enough for the capacity of 391 places. Another major change from the previous visit was that a very old building that no longer served the purpose had been demolished, creating a lot of space in the courtyard that had been turned into a green area.
The penitentiary had separate sections for all detention regimes, including preventive arrest and maximum security (only for young detainees, not for minors), as well as an external section for the open regime. At the time of the visit, the semi-open regime detainees complained that legal detention conditions were not observed, more precisely rooms did not remain open throughout the day, being locked when detainees were taken out to the exercise yards. The same problem was signaled by the representatives of APADOR-CH during their previous visit in 2009, when the prison management explained that they locked the door in order to avoid theft or conflicts among detainees. Then, as now, the Association recommended that a solution should be found as fast as possible so that detainees held under the semi-open regime could move freely inside the section throughout the day, as provided by Law no. 275/2006.
At the time of the visit, PMT Tichileşti held 289 detainees, exclusively male, of whom 45 were minors;18 were over 21 years old, but still held at Tichileşti to complete the education stages they had been enrolled for; and the were aged 18-21. The detainees were divided by detention regimes as follows: 20 under preventive arrest, 10 in quarantine, 41 under open regime (all of them living at the farm), 151 under semi-open regime, 47 under closed regime and 20 under maximum security regime.
The security personnel counted 132 agents. The medical staff included six members, the socio-cultural department employed other seven (five educators, one psychologist and one orthodox priest) and the place was kept clean by four janitors. Each security agent had in charge a little over two detainees, a very good ratio according to international standards (which recommend four or at most five detainees per agent).
Detention space measured 1682 sq m, of which 180 sq m at the farm. The legal capacity of the penitentiary was of 391 places, while the number of beds at the time of the visit was 480. For the 289 detainees, the detention space fell well within and even went beyond the CPT recommended standard of 4 square meters per person – a commendable example for the Romanian penitentiary system. If all 480 beds were occupied, the space would be a little less than 4 sq m per person, but the Tichileşti prison management said that the facility had never been fully occupied since the inauguration of the new building.
School, professional training
A special school for grades I-VIII functioned on the second floor of the new building, while high-school distance learning courses were organized in cooperation with a local high-school and its teachers. For the school year that had just ended, the school had 162 gymnasium students and 82 high-school students, who had all passed.
The County School Inspectorate employed 13 teachers and 2 auxiliary teachers (for high-school) to work with the children at the special school. Starting this year, PMT Tichileşti planned to launch the “A Second Chance”, because, as the prison governor said, the priority of the facility was to educate the detainees. Beside school classes, the penitentiary also organized literacy courses and qualification training courses throughout the year, including the summer vacation. The masonry course exams were ongoing at the time of the visit. If they passed the final test, the attendees received a professional certificate allowing them to work as masons.
The school had 10 rooms, each with new furniture and all the necessary equipment of a normal school. Each room bore the name of a Romanian personality in order to inspire the students, the prison management explained. Each had a teacher’s desk and desks for 10 students. Commendably, classes brought together students from al detention regimes. A special room for IT courses with 13 functional computers was also organized on the ground floor of the building.
At the time of the visit, school was over and the students had returned their books. The representatives of APADOR-CH could see that the books were in sufficient number and in good state. They also visited the workshops for carpentry, bakery, masonry – all of them in good condition and well furnished with materials. The workshop functioned with 14-15 students and lasted for 3 or 6 months, depending on how complex the skills they had to learn were.
Both on the ground floor and on the first floor of the new building there were counseling rooms, educational video rooms and a library with an impressive number of books and musical instruments that the prison management planned to use for future activities. A chapel was organized in the same building, where an Orthodox priest conducted various activities with the children and young men. The prison management said that representatives of other denominations came to the penitentiary upon request.
During their visit to the sections, the representatives of APADOR-CH met a group of 11 detainees who had gone for a walk on the Danube bank, accompanied by 4 adult supervisors. The prison management said that such outings were frequent and that the minors/young detainees did not have to wear their uniforms while going out.
The Association appreciates the openness of the prison management for a diversity of educational activities, both in school and extra-curricular, and recommends that these should remain the main priority of PMT Tichileşti.
The medical sector was organized in the new building and, like the rest of the spaces here, was endowed with new furniture and equipment, including a well furnished pharmacy. The medical sector included 3 quarantine rooms, with 4 beds each, a room for TB sputum sampling, an isolation room for TB patients (unoccupied at the time of the visit), a dentistry room, a doctor’s room and a nurses’ room. It must be said that although the dentist practice was fully equipped, it was not used because there was no dentist hired, so detainees with dental problems had to be sent to the Slobozia penitentiary, which had an operational practice.
Understaffing could be seen not just in the case of the dentist, but also of the GPs. At the time of the visit, only one of the three positions was occupied, and the GP in cause was sub-contracted from a nearby hospital. Therefore he could not be present on the premises every day, but only upon request, when health problems arose. PMT Tichileşti also had six positions for nurses, of which only five were occupied, and the pharmacy was tended by an assistant pharmacist. The medical sector had the necessary emergency drugs at hand, while the others could be taken from the pharmacy. Although the prison management said there was no problem with drug procurement, the reality seemed different. The representatives of APADOR-CH met several minors and young detainees with untreated afflictions. The lack of medical personnel was most probably one of the causes for a large number of ailing detainees. The Association asks the prison management to allocate priority funds to hire specialized staff on the existing vacant positions, especially since the detainees are boys and young men, with special medical needs.
At the time of the visit, neither the doctor nor any nurse were in, only the pharmacy assistant. He said that there had been no serious health problems lately, just a few cases of chickenpox. He also said that during the previous year, about 30 detainees had been tested for HIV, while the penitentiary could make 70 HIV tests available every year, and that condoms were available at the medical ward and at the conjugal visitation room. APADOR-CH reminds the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP) that this is a frequent situation in the Romanian penitentiary system and insists that condoms should be placed at the disposal of detainees, in special distribution boxes placed on each section. From the point of view of costs, we must point out that prevention is much cheaper than the cost of treatment for STDs.
The pharmacy assistant also said that there were cases of former drug-users in the penitentiary, but there was no procedure for adequate medical care. There had been however plans to introduce medical care for drug addictions in the future. It was considered that minors and young men who were drug users were not in need of further treatment because they came to PMT Tichileşti only after stopping at an addiction treatment center.
Several cases of hepatitis were also mentioned as being under treatment. To the question of the representatives of APADOR-CH about possible skin conditions of the detainees, the answer was that no such cases were under evidence. However, during their visit, the representatives of the Association found a very different reality, as described further in the report.
The infirmary, with four beds, was empty at the time of the visit.
The kitchen was preparing lunch for the detainees: vegetable soup and portioned pork and beans. Once every 3 days, each detainee received an egg. On the dinner menu that night: potato stew with pork scraps (general) or liver (diet). Breakfast usually consisted of bread, margarine, cheese and tea.
The kitchen employed two cooks, aided by young detainees from the open regime. The detainees who worked got their prison time reduced. The cook said that each detainee had a ration of 100 g of meat and one bread loaf per day.
The kitchen was well maintained and the food looked and smelled good.
Visits to detention rooms
As already mentioned, PMT Tichileşti held detainees in two buildings, an older one and a brand new one, opened in January 2013.
Only young detainees categorized into the maximum security/closed regime or as “high risk detainees”, as well as those on preventive arrest were accommodated in the old building – a total of 72. In what concerns the “high risk” detainees, APADOR-CH has always insisted that detainees identified as high-risk should only be carefully supervised by the security agents/officers; they should not be isolated from the others and treated as if they were under the maximum security regime. The Association asks PMT Tichileşti to explain why and by what procedures have some young detainees been moved into the high-risk group, since this labeling fails to take into account the prison term and the nature of their crimes.
Maximum security regime detainees were held in two rooms and high-risk detainees in a separate one. The latter room had 8 beds, 7 of which were occupied at the time of the visit. It measured about 25 sq m, therefore a little less than 4 sq m of space for each detainee – the legal provision to avoid overcrowding. To avoid overcrowding, this room should only have six beds, especially since maximum security detainees had little privileges compared to other categories and spent most of their time in their cells.
Only one detainee was in the room, while the rest were in the exercise yard. He said that accommodation and food were satisfactory and that hot water was provided twice a week. The room was well lit and aired, equipped with a TV set and a clean lavatory (shower, sink, toilet). The alert system remained primitive: knocking at the door.
It must be said that maximum security prisoners were not allowed to take part in qualification courses. The Association considers that such detainees also need to be reinserted into society, and the choice of not allowing them to enlist for professional training, their chances to do that are diminished. An operative team is in place to intervene for this detention regime, and a masked agent is constantly present in the section. The representatives of APADOR-CH could see this agent during their visit. He was equipped only with a baton and a spray. As the prison management said, only maximum security prisoners and high risk detainees were handcuffed whenever they were taken outside the facility. The prison management also said that for high risk detainees, regulations also stipulated the use of chains, but it did not happen in practice. APADOR-CH points out that handcuffing prisoners whenever they are taken out of the facility should not be the exception, rather the norm, only for cases of strict necessity.
The representatives of the Association also visited one of the 3 rooms for closed regime detainees. It measured about 55 sq m and had 22 beds, only 12 of which were occupied at the time of the visit. The amount of space per detainee was therefore 4.6 sq m, but the Association points out that if all beds were occupied, that room would be overcrowded. The room was clean, with a high ceiling and enough natural light; it had access to its own lavatory. A problem encountered in both buildings at PMT Tichileşti was the huge number of flies that had invaded the rooms after the detainees had removed the windows to cool the place. The Association recommends that mosquito nets be fitted on the window frames.
One of the two rooms for preventive arrestees measured 58 sq m and had 20 beds, all of them occupied at the time of the visit. At only 2.9 sq meters of space for each detainee, that meant overcrowding. The young men held there said they received one loaf of bread every day, that they had received an egg three day ago and that they were generally satisfied with the conditions. The only complaint was that they were not taken out of their rooms more often, for various activities (especially sports – soccer and ping pong). This room, too, was full of flies. One of the detainees had visible marks on his legs (ulcerations) and told the representatives of APADOR-CH that he had been given antibiotic treatment for the disease, although he could not say what it was. Detainees had no idea what the liaison judge’s role was in the penitentiary. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to post information about the attributions and contacts of the liaison judge in visible places in each section.
The building also had a canteen where meals were served, as well as exercise yards measuring 12 sq m each (more appropriately called exercise boxes), without any equipment that would make any activity possible. The Association reiterates the necessity to install equipment allowing detainees to do some physical exercise in the yard, such as pull-ups or ball games.
Half of the new building was occupied by the education, psycho-social and medical departments, while the other half was used for accommodation. Conditions were very good, not just because the furniture was new, but also because auxiliary spaces had been planned to cover various necessities, such as lavatories for staff members, laundry, canteens, waiting rooms, barber’s shop, personal belongings storage, video monitoring rooms, visual alert system.
The building accommodated minors (on preventive arrest, open, semi-open and closed regime) and young detainees (open and semi-open regime), as well as the quarantine rooms (for minors and young detainees).
The representatives of APADOR-CH visited one of the rooms for minors held under the closed regime. The room measured 28 sq m and had 8 beds, only 4 of which were occupied. Mattresses and beddings were new and well maintained, as were the walls and floor. There was no TV set in the room and the prison management explained that it had been removed after being destroyed by the inmates. Three of the four boys held here had ulcerations on their legs. Asked what was the cause, one of them answered that he did not know what he suffered from, but that he had been treated with Oxacillinum. Although the treatment had been completed, the skin ulcerations were not cured.
The section for minors and young detainees on semi-open regime was on the first floor. During the visit, a revolt started among detainees, unhappy that the doors did not remain open throughout the day, as the law provided for semi-open regime detention. The prison management explained that doors were locked during exercise time to prevent stealing, but since not all detainees were taken out at the same time, the others remained in their rooms, with the door closed. The Association considers that this is not a reason to break the law and asks the prison management to take urgent measures to provide the legal detention conditions.
Many detainees bore the same marks on the bodies as those under the closed regime; some of them said they had been treated with antibiotics for a short period of time, others had not. Since it afflicted so many detainees, the skin condition had obviously become an epidemic. The representatives of the Association asked to see the medical record of one of the young detainees who suffered from the condition and he agreed. He had been transferred from Poarta Albă Penitentiary, where he had been diagnosed with scabies and treated with Betadine, to the Focşani Penitentiary, where he had been diagnosed with generalized folliculitis, but received no treatment. Currently, at PMT Tichileşti, he was not under any kind of treatment either.
The same medical problem was encountered during the previous visit by APADOR-CH to PMT Tichileşti. The Association points out that, then as now, the situation is unacceptable and the matter requires to be made a priority. All cases should be identified, diagnosed and treated accordingly, to stop the disease from spreading more than it already has. Also, during the health education sessions, young detainees need to learn how to maintain personal hygiene, given that many of them – as pointed by the prison management – are orphans with many gaps in their education.
A special case encountered during the visit at the semi-open regime section was a young man with apparent mental issues. Seeing the representatives of APADOR-CH, he became agitated and started to list all his complaints about the penitentiary, including the problem with the doors that remained locked during the day. With the detainee’s agreement, the representatives of the Association checked his medical record. The prison management also said that the young man had a difficult family situation and that they tried to contact his family and get them come to visit, but nothing happened. The medical record contained no diagnostic to suggest a psychiatric condition, but a mention of a cut wound had been added that very day. The detainee had cut his hand on top of an older scar, in protest. The older incident was not mentioned either, although the detainee said it had taken place during detention. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to give special care to such mentally challenged detainees, to identify their problems and provide appropriate medical care, because these are people with special need, whose state of health may be deteriorated by the hostile environment.
At the time of the visit, the minors and young detainees who served their terms under the open regime were, most of them, out to work or to various educational activities. The representatives of the Association visited one of the rooms, were there were only two young men. One of them suffered from the same skin condition and said that he had been given antibiotic, although he did not know for what. The detainees said that doors remained unlocked throughout the day. The room was clean and well maintained.
One of the detainees, Iancu Vasile, asked to have a private conversation with the representatives of APADOR-CH about his situation at the penitentiary. He complained about detention conditions, saying that detainees were instigated by the agents to become violent and then were reported. He said that his electric water heater was seized after several discipline reports, and now he was no longer allowed to go shopping at the in-house shop. Also, he said that when he was brought before the discipline commission for one of the incidents, his opinion and version of the facts was not heard. Moreover, he said that he received no answer from the liaison judge after he contested the decision of the discipline commission. Iancu Vasile also said that he had worked at the kitchen for a long time and knew that food was prepared in inappropriate conditions and that ingredients were of poor quality.
Correspondence, visits, other aspects
Letters were posted personally by detainees, and access to the mailbox was not restricted in any way. Phones were available in every section, and so were info-kiosks – which detainees said they knew how to use.
The liaison judge was not present at the penitentiary at the time of the visit, but the prison management said that, in some cases, he had reversed the decisions of the discipline commission.
Visits took place in the new building and were generally open visits. The special visitation room had 11 tables. For detainees held in the closed and maximum security regime (no minors among them) there were separated cabins. Visitors were allowed to bring in parcels, containing at most 10 kilos of food, 6 kilos of fruit and 20 liters of water/juice. Medicine could be brought only with the prior consent of the doctor.
The in-house shop, also visited by the representatives of APADOR-CH, was well provided, except for fruit and vegetables. The prison management said that fresh products were only brought in upon request. The prices were similar with the ones in local shops outside the prison.
The matrimonial visitation room was in the new building and was appropriately furnished. Condoms were distributed there, too.
Conclusions and recommendations
- The Association asks that the health problems of the minors and young men detained PMT Tichileşti should be solved with priority, especially the skin ulcerations, that require constant treatment until they cure completely.
- Specialized medical staff should be hired on the available positions, so that a doctor can be present every day at the facility.
- A solution should be found with celerity to leave the doors of the semi-open regime section unlocked during the whole day, thus observing the legal provisions regulating detention regimes.
Other conclusions and recommendations have been included in the report.
Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu Doina-Adelina Boboşatu