Report on the visit to the Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary

Tuesday - 16 April 2013
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1. Preamble

 

On April 16, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the main venue of the Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary and the external section in Vânjuleţ, about 30 kilometers outside town. The previous visit had taken place in May 2007. Compared to the initial situation, some improvements were noted.

 

The external section in Vânjuleţ was inaugurated. The facility has about 6 hectares of land. Designed as a maximum security prison, it had the advantage of requiring only a small number of security agents. It currently accommodated the open and semi-open regime sections.

 

The main venue had been equipped with a new heating system, which was part of a European project assumed by the Romanian state after the ECHR decision in the case Bragadireanu vs. Romania.

 

Law no. 275/2006 on the execution of custodial sentences was generally observed. In what concerned the custody regimes, doors were indeed opened at all times in the open regime and open during daytime at semi-open regime (with one violation – door were still locked during lunch time). Chains were no longer used for restraint and operational teams were no longer carrying firearms or wearing masks during their interventions.

 

According to the prison management, there had been no serious incidents except for one case of self-mutilation of a mentally disturbed detainee. The rest of the incidents were generally related to illegal possession of mobile phones. They were so frequent because there was not enough supervising staff and because the penitentiary didn’t have a GSM signal-jamming system, nor a video surveillance system.

 

The prison management considered that personnel shortage and, especially, financial penury, were a stringent problem at Drobeta. Documents seen by the representatives of APADOR-CH showed, indeed, that the penitentiary was, at the time of the visit, in the situation of not being able to pay the current bills for utilities and that money for food and medicine were running out.

 

2. Population, detention conditions, personnel

 

The facility held only male detainees, most of them serving sentences under the open and semi-open regime, under the coordination of the Craiova Penitentiary.

 

On the day of the visit, the total population was 1022, all adult males, of whom 890 – under the semi-open regime; 117 – open regime; 3 – closed regime; 1 – maximum security regime. The remaining 11 detainees were still under observation/quarantine. The main unit held 568 of the detainees, the external section held 451 detainees under open and semi-open regime and 3 detainees lived at the farm, under open regime.

 

The total surface of detention spaces at Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary was 2221.03 square meters, a little over 2 sq m/detainee. That indicated a serious degree of overcrowding. The main unit had about 1200 sq m of detention space, the external section had 815 sq m – both equally overcrowded. He only location not overcrowded was the farm. APADOR-CH reminds that the recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in 1999 should be followed, meaning that 4 square meters of space and 8 cubic meters of air should be provided for each detainee. The Association points out once again that Romania has been repeatedly sanctioned by the ECHR for detention conditions and that the judgment in the case Iacov Stanciu vs. Romania found that overcrowding was a recurrent problem in Romanian prisons and that this situation, together with lack of hygiene and inadequate medical treatment were tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment against the plaintiff.

 

Overcrowding aside, detention conditions differed from one section to another. The general impression was that the buildings required capital repairs. Only some of the rooms were renovated and clean. Natural lighting and airing were generally good and hot water was provided twice a week. Detainees who talked to the representatives of APADOR-CH said that the rooms had been warm enough during winter.

  

A number of 201 employees worked directly with detainees. 117 of them worked at the detention security and penitentiary regime department, 11 at the medical department and 13 at the social and educational department. The latter two departments were understaffed.

 

3. Medical care

 

Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary had two medical offices employing 12 persons, of whom eleven worked directly for the penitentiary. The 12th employee was a dentist who had a service contract with the facility. The employees counted three doctors, six nurses, one hygiene assistant and one pharmacy assistant.

 

According to the doctors, the most frequent conditions among detainees were chronic cardio-vascular diseases followed by mental problems (about 100 detainees had psychiatric diagnoses) There had been some recent cases of TB and hepatitis. No syphilis or HIV infection cases were signaled – all 60 HIV tests taken over the previous years had been negative. The medical office had condoms for detainees, but they were not available at discretion, as they had been years before, when anti-AIDS NGOs provided them freely to the penitentiary.

 

The doctors said there were no medical problems connected to drug abuse because the main drug in the area was cannabis and cannabis rarely caused problems. Very few former heroin addicts arrived at Drobeta Penitentiary, and they were brought in only after completing their detoxification treatment.

 

The medical staff said there were no problems related to medical supplies/deduction of medication costs and that the county hospital cooperated very well with the facility, never refusing to admit detainees and sending the ambulance at the external section in case of night-time emergencies (the Vânjuleţ section did not have a doctor on duty permanently).

 

Medical exams were provided upon request and chronic patients were seen every week. Detainees who talked to the representatives of APADOR-CH declared that in general there were no problems with medical care. The only one they could point out was the occasional hiccup in medication supply at the external section. More precisely, certain drugs were not available at the medical office and had to be brought from the main unit the next day.

 

The infirmary was in the main unit and had 21 beds in a 53 sq m room. Detainees admitted here (20, at the time of the visit) could use a lavatory with two toilet cabins, two showers and two sinks. Hot water was provided only twice a week, as in the rest of the facility. APADOR-CH considers that this hot water schedule is not sufficient for suffering people and suggests that hot water be provided around the clock at the infirmary. If the penitentiary heating system could not provide hot water on a daily basis, then the Association suggests that a large capacity boiler should be installed on the premises.  

 

4. Food, serving food, in-house shops

 

The Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary had a kitchen at the external section and one at the central unit. The latter had damp walls – the only visible hygiene problem. Otherwise, the rooms, the storage area, the kitchenware were all clean and well kept. Detainees who helped prepare the food had a health check every 3 months. The menu for lunch on the day of the visit (the same in both kitchens, but prepared separately) included potato soup and beans with pork scraps. Meat was portioned so that every detainee received a slice. For dinner, the menu was vegetables stew. Most detainees ate in their rooms. At the Vânjuleţ section there were however several canteens where detainees had lunch and dinner.

 

Detainees could do their shopping at the in-house shops (one in the central unit, one at the external section) three times per week. The maximum amount they could spend per week was 375 lei. At the time of the visit, the two shops were well provided with food (including fresh fruit and vegetables), cigarettes, coffee, juice, personal hygiene products, paper products etc. Cooked food could also be ordered. The prices, quite high according to the detainees, were supervised by a penitentiary committee so they did not get more than 25% above the average prices in the area.

 

 

5. Activities of the social and educational department, leisure activities

 

The social and educational department employed 13 persons, of whom 7 educators and two psychologists. The number of professionals was obviously too small for a prison population above 1000.

 

The department ran a program of preparation for release and one for the prevention of drug abuse (in co-operation with CEPCA), a qualification course for garden helpers and school courses. 90 detainees were taking these courses: 40 enlisted for primary school and 50 for secondary school (gymnasium).

 

The chief of the department said that detainees were also taken on outings, for instance to watch the football games of the high-school championship, but only when security agents were available to escort them. This was seldom, because the security department was also understaffed.

 

The main unit of the penitentiary had a well endowed library, regularly visited by about 70 detainees. There was also a room equipped as a painting workshop and three rooms organized for educational programs. The exercise yards of the central unit were small but the intention of the prison management to increase these spaces was visible: an access area in the semi-open regime section was made available to open regime detainees, as an exercise yard. The yard was equipped for minimal sports activities, for instance with dumbbells.

 

At the Vânjuleţ section, there was much more space available, so exercise yards were large. Some areas of the yards had been turned into basketball fields, for instance, or provided with fitness equipment. School classes took place in the canteens and activity rooms. The external section also had a chapel where two voluntary orthodox priests held mass from time to time.

 

6. Work of detainees

 

Of the 1022 detainees of the penitentiary, 480 detainees (serving under both open and semi-open regime) went to work, and 418 were paid for their work. The ratio of working detainees was high, compared to other prisons.

 

The unpaid workers were 12 detainees who did voluntary cleaning jobs on behalf of the town hall and other 50 detainees who worked as supervisors of detention areas.

 

Other 18 detainees who worked for the town hall had a contract. The 30 detainees who served the community worked in various locations outside the penitentiary.

 

The remaining 400 workers were hired by contract by a shoe company and sewed together various parts of footwear. The activity took place at both the central unit and the external section.

 

All working detainees had time deducted from their prison terms. The retribution was the national minimum wage. According to Law no. 275/2006 on the execution of custodial sentences and of other measures taken by the judiciary during criminal trials, revenues are to be distributed as follows:

 

Art. 62. – (1) Revenues provided under article 61 shall be paid to the administration of the penitentiary where the convict serves his/her sentence and shall be distributed as follows:

 

a) 40% of the revenues to the detainee, who may use 75% of them during his prison term and 25%, stocked in his/her name and paid with interest after release.

 

b) 60% of the revenues to the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP), as revenues to be registered and used according to the legal provisions on public finances.

 

It must be said that revenues obtained from the work of detainees did not remain in the accounts of the penitentiary, but were collected from all facilities by the ANP, who decided how they would be spent. APADOR-CH considers that this was why prison managers were not stimulated to identify new working opportunities for detainees. The Association recommends that all revenues from the work of detainees should stay at the facility where they served their sentence. It would be an incentive for prison managers who are constantly preoccupied in finding work for detainees and a hint for those who rely only on ANP funds.

 

7. Contacts with the outside, other rights, liaison judge

 

All detainees had the right to have 30 minutes of phone calls per day, paid with their personal cards. Phones were located on the corridors of each section. Mailboxes were also on the corridors. The mail was collected by the postal worker in person.

 

Detainees had the right to receive 10 kilos of food, 6 kilos of fruit and 20 liters of water/juice every month, from their visitors. During one visit, a detainee was allowed to receive two adults and two minors. The central unit had a room equipped for open visits, with tables and chairs, a room with a separator for meetings with legal advisors, and three separated cabins for closed visits. The visitation area of the external section consisted of one room for open visits, a clerk’s office and eight separated cabins.

 

The receipt and checking of parcels was made according to the regulations: the contents were displayed before both the detainee and the visitors at the same time.

 

The central unit had a matrimonial room and a second one was being furnished. The room and the bathroom were clean and hot water was available around the clock. Detainees who received a matrimonial visit were provided with condoms and leaflets on STDs.

At the Vânjuleţ external section, the right to freedom of information was not observed, as there were no TV sets in the rooms. The prison management explained that no TV cable operator wanted to sign a contract with the penitentiary because the facility was 30 kilometers outside the city. The prison management said it had recently taken steps to provide detainees with cards for satellite TV reception. At the central unit, all the rooms had cable TV.

 

Detainees had folders in their rooms containing information on prison regulations, rights, obligations and contacts of the liaison judge.

 

The liaison judge and his clerk came to the facility every day. The judge was pro-active: he frequently visited detention sections, talked to the detainees, checked the food, etc. According to him, most complaints were filed against the decisions of the discipline committee. About that, the liaison judge said that in some cases there were opposite opinions on disciplinary decisions, and court action followed. He also said that the atmosphere was generally quiet and incidents were rare – as indicated by the fact that since the beginning of the year there had been only one hunger strike. Confinement sanctions had not been applied for more than one year.

 

8. Visit to the rooms, discussions with the detainees

 

At the central unit, the representatives of APADOR-CH visited 5 rooms and talked to 53 detainees. Three of the rooms were part of the semi-open section. Room E2.1, measuring about 32 sq m, held 14 detainees in 18 beds, while rooms E2.3 and E2.8, measuring about 15 sq m, each held 6 detainees in 6 beds. They all said they were generally satisfied by the conditions, the only problems they complained about being the high prices at the shop and the hot water schedule – limited to two days a week. The other two rooms visited were in the open regime section (Rooms E1.4, 12 beds/30 sq m and E1.2, 15 beds/40 sq m). Detainees were either at work or in the exercise yard. Those in the yard said they were content with detention conditions, the way detention regime was observed and the way the staff treated them.

 

At the external section in Vânjuleţ, the representatives of the Association visited 3 rooms from all existing sections and talked to 54 detainees.

The 30 detainees held in a 50 sq m room had several complaints, among which: overcrowding, not enough running hot water, bad food, high prices at the shop and poor supplies, the presence of a priest only once in a fortnight, etc. They also said that the semi-open regime was not observed because the doors did not stay open; they stayed locked and were only opened once every hour, limiting their freedom to move inside the section.

 

At section 3 in Vânjuleţ, the representatives of the Association noted the deplorable state of the shower room, which was completely insalubrious.

 

Conclusions and recommendations:

 

  1. APADOR-CH asks the National Administration of Penitentiaries to take urgent steps to solve the problem of overcrowding at Drobeta Turnu-Severin Penitentiary.

 

2.       The Association recommends that hot water should be provided around the clock at the infirmary and considers that the shower room at section 3 in Vânjuleţ requires immediate refurbishment.

3.       APADOR-CH recommends a revision of the legal framework, so that income obtained by working detainees stayed with the penitentiary where they serve their sentence.

 

Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu                                                                       Dollores Benezic