Report on the visit to Galaţi Penitentiary

Thursday - 22 November 2012
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On November 22, 2012, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Galaţi Penitentiary. The previous visit had taken place on December 12, 2005.

 

General aspects

In December 2005, the biggest problem at Galaţi Penitentiary was the quality and quantity of drinking water available for detainees. The sole source of fresh water was, at the time, a well that provided water (with worms in it) for six hours per day. In the meantime, a second well had been just opened and the situation was therefore improved. The problem of overcrowding remained, as noted during the previous visit as well, a major setback – with almost twice as many detainees as the capacity of the prison.

The representatives of APADOR-CH were able to notice that the “masked” squads were still present in the penitentiary. The Association reminds the judgment of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Cucu v. Romania, which promoted the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatments (CPT). The CPT stated that the presence of such intervention teams in prisons “created an oppressive atmosphere, as the masks prevented the identification of a potential suspect in the case of ill treatment complaints”. The Committee also recommended that the members of special interventions squads should not be allowed to wear masks during intervention missions, under any circumstances.

 

Prison population, detention spaces, staff

Most detainees at Galaţi Penitentiary were held under closed regime. There were also detainees under preventive arrest and some who served their sentences under the maximum security regime. Detention was, therefore, strict.

At the time of the visit, there were 1028 detainees, of whom 1001 male (two young detainees) and 27 women. At the central unit, there were 925 male detainees held at the time of the visit: 149 in the high security section, 524 in closed regime sections, 207 on preventive arrest and 45 uncategorized (infirmary and quarantine). Male detainees selected for semi-open regime were immediately transferred to Brăila Penitentiary, while those under open regime were held at the external section in Şendreni (at the time of the visit, there were 83).

Women were all held in section 8, under all types of regime, except maximum security. Because women’s rooms were all in the same section, the procedures for the various detention regimes could not be followed. Therefore, female detainees held under open regime (6, at the time of the visit) and semi-open regime (11) did not have their rooms open during the day, could not visit the yard at any time during the day, etc.

Detention rooms were placed in buildings G and H and distributed, according to detention regime, as follows:

– Building G, held: on the ground floor – section 1, maximum security; first floor – section 2, quarantine; medical section, infirmary, confinement room and hunger strike room; second floor – section 3 detainees on preventive arrest; third floor – section 4, closed regime.

– Building H held: on the ground floor – female detainees; first, second and third floors – section 7, 6 and 5, closed regime.

 

Detention spaces

According to documents provided by the Galaţi prison management, the penitentiary had 91 detention rooms, measuring 24 square meters each, amounting to a total of 2.184 square meters of actual detention space. In fact, the penitentiary had two types of rooms. Most of them measured 24 sq m only if the lavatory and storage area were included, so living space was up to 20 sq m. There were also a few rooms of about 10 sq meters. For instance, Section 1 – maximum security – had 15 rooms, of which 13 measured 20 sq m and 2 measured 10 sq m, so its total surface was 280 sq m. At the time of the visit, the section held 149 detainees, so it provided less than 2 sq meters for each of them – half of the personal space recommended by the CPT. The penitentiary therefore held twice as many detainees as its capacity, being one of the most overcrowded in the Romanian prison system.

The penitentiary had 6 exercise yards, measuring about 24 square meters each. Two of them had gym equipment that could be used twice a week by closed regime and maximum security detainees.

The prison staff numbered 155 persons in the operative service, 14 in the social educational service and 9 in the medical department. For each member of the staff there were 7 detainees, or even more, given that not all staff were present at work at the same time. As a conclusion, the CPT norm of one member of the staff for each 5 detainees was not observed.

 

Social reinsertion activities, work for detainees

The social and educational department consisted of 5 educators, 2 social workers, 2 psychologists, a sport monitor and escort and technical personnel.

School no. 83 was part of the penitentiary, running courses for grades I-VIII (55 detainees attending) and high-school (10 detainees attending). About 50 detainees also attended courses organized by the County Labor Agency, in carpentry, plumbing, IT and cooking.

Each specialist (social workers, psychologists) coordinated 2-3 counseling programs lasting up to three months. Counseling sessions took place twice a week in groups of about 10 detainees. The chief of the department said that in the course of one year, each detainee was included in a counseling program. The programs offered vocational information, adaptation to prison life and social reinsertion activities.

At the time of the visit, the Galaţi County Center for Drug Prevention, Evaluation and Counseling, part of the National Anti-Drug Agency, had ongoing activities with two former addicts. The prison management said no substitution program was available and that detainees in need of methadone treatment were sent to the Rahova Penitentiary.

The representatives of APADOR-CH visited the recently renovated building of the social and educational service. Moreover, each detention section had a small space prepared for counseling sessions. Another building in the yard had recently been refurbished as an IT center, where detainees had computer classes. One of the rooms had 11 new computers, and the other was a conference room where information and training sessions could be organized.

Recently, one of the exercise yards had been transformed – using recycled materials – into a soccer field of about 100 square meters. The access to the soccer field was 4 hours per day, one group an hour. All detainees got their turn on the field every week. The prison management said that the sports field was actually built by detainees themselves and that they were very happy to be able to play sports. In two of the exercise yards, gym equipment was available for closed and maximum security regime detainees twice a week.

At the time of the visit, the Galaţi Penitentiary received funding through the Sectoral Operational Program “Development of Human Resources”, which explained the whole series of social and educational activities for detainees. The Association commends the open attitude of the prison management for organizing as many activities as possible and recommends that solutions should be found to continue these activities after the funding ceases.

At the time of the visit, several companies had contracts with the penitentiary to hire detainees. 62 detainees went to work outside the penitentiary, while other 100 participated in domestic activities. As a reward, the latter received, besides a reduction of their prison term, more family and spouse visits. The penitentiary had built a carpentry workshop, where the wood recycled from the demolished old prison buildings was turned into furniture – for in-house use only. Another activity that involved detainees was collecting PET bottles, which were exchanged for cash to be used for prison expenses.

 

Visitation, correspondence, the liaison judge

The visitation sector included special spaces for both open and closed visits. For the open and semi-open regime, visits took place in two rooms without separators, watched by non-recording cameras – to ensure strictly visual surveillance during the visits.

Six cabins with separators, each permitting the visit of two adults and two minors, were also available. Visits could not last more than 80 minutes and appointments could be made by phone or e-mail.

The parcel room had a door viewer and parcels were opened under the eyes of detainees. A parcel could contain at most 10 kilos of food, 6 kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables and 20 liters of water/juice.

The mailbox was at the entrance of building G and the prison management said that detainees were able to post their letters themselves when they were taken out for exercise. Detainees confirmed.

Conversations with legal advisors took place in a special room, inside the detention sector. The room was furnished with a table and chairs and placed under visual surveillance only.

The spouse visitation room was occupied when APADOR-CH was at the penitentiary. The prison management said that the room was equipped with everything necessary; a visit could last up to 48 hours; and each detainee had the right to receive one such visit every three months.

The liaison judge had an office in the administrative building of the prison and was assisted by a court clerk. Detainees could ask for an audience and were received every Wednesday from 8.00 to 16.00 (10 to 20 detainees). The liaison judge and the clerk said that detainees mostly complained about their detention regime and sanctions, and in some cases about the precarious conditions. They also said there were seldom cases of hunger strike, the maximum number of cases in a month was of 4-5 and the last such case was a detainee who refused food on November 7 but gave up the following day. There had been cases when the liaison judge disagreed with/annulled the reports of the discipline board and his recommendations were followed.

 

Medical care

The Galaţi Penitentiary had two medical cabinets – one for general medicine and one for the dentist, both on the first floor of the building. The staff included two doctors (a GP and a dentist), 5 medical assistants (one of them on leave at the time of the visit), a pharmacist and a nurse. Both cabinets provided care for the detainees, and only in case of emergency did they tend to members of the staff. The Association considers that one doctor and 5 assistants working in shifts cannot provide the necessary care for such a large number of detainees, therefore asking for an increased number of positions. Another option would be to contract private medical clinics or practices in Galaţi, who could send personnel to the penitentiary whenever the number of required medical exams increased.

The representatives of APADOR-CH visited the medical cabinet and discussed with the medical assistant on duty and with the dentist. The medical assistant said that the department had under its care chronic patients, mental patients and hepatitis patients (all types). He said there were no cases of AIDS or syphilis, but also said there had been no testing for the diseases – which was quite a paradox: how could anyone be sure the diseases were absent if they were not even screened for?

Both the assistant and the dentist complained about the poor supplies of drugs. The staff said that condoms were provided to detainees on demand, because the internal regulations did not include a rule for distributing condoms in special boxes, placed on the corridors, for free access. They admitted there was a time when condoms were freely distributed, because they were purchased by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The penitentiary did not run the methadone substitution or the syringe exchange programs, so drug addicts were redirected to the Rahova Penitentiary. The Association points out that failing to provide condoms may increase the risk of disease. The fact that condoms were only available at the medical cabinet and that detainees needed to ask for them could be seen as a pressure and it could discourage detainees to use them. APADOR-CH maintains that prevention (by purchasing and distributing condoms) is much cheaper than the subsequent treatment of diseases.

Medical consultations were made by appointment and there were no complaints from detainees that they were not seen by the doctors when required.

The ward was clean and well equipped. The records of the patients were filed by detention regime, women separately, and a list of prices for tests and investigations was posted on the wall.

The infirmary was on the same floor as the cabinet and was organized in a 10 sq m room with 8 beds, seven of which were occupied at the time of the visit. The 2 sq m lavatory was insalubrious. It was separated from the room by a door. Detainees from all detention regimes were held at the infirmary. The persons in the room said the food was bad, that cold water was available round the clock and hot water twice a week – on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

One of the detainees in the infirmary said he had been three for two years, during which time he had suffered two heart attacks. Aside from the treatment received at Galaţi Penitentiary, he was sent every 6 month for a check-up at the Jilava Penitentiary Hospital. Another detainee, Gheorghe Lăcătuş, complained of terrible headaches and said he did not receive the recommended treatment, nor were painkillers left in his cells, for him to take when he needed. The representatives of APADOR-CH asked the doctor about the patient and were told that he had a mental illness and could not be allowed to self-administer his medication. On the day of the visit he had been given two Paracetamols, which had not eased his pain. The doctor said that drugs were scarce and that they expected supplies from Poarta Albă Penitentiary Hospital. APADOR-CH criticizes the situation and – given the fact that the absence of drugs and lack of appropriate treatment was not only found in Galaţi, recommended the national Administration of Penitentiaries (henceforward ANP) to find an expedient solution, for example by allotting a bigger budget to drug supplies.

The Penitentiary had recently had a suicide attempt. One of the detainees had tried to hang himself from a bathroom pipe, using the bed linen as a rope. He was found by cell mates in time and saved. In such circumstances, the medical assistant said that patients were usually brought to the medical ward for investigations, after which a report is filed and a treatment prescribed. The detainee was afterwards transferred to the quarantine section.

On the same floor, a room was reserved for TB patients. At the time of the visit, one detainee, suspect of TB, was held in there.

 

Food

The situation of the kitchen areas was the same as in 2005, when APADOR-CH had last visited the Galaţi Penitentiary. The dense steam made the air in the kitchen was hardly breathable and water was running down on the walls. Two cooker hoods hung from the ceiling, but they were unable to absorb the steam. The floor was also wet and dirty. Two detainees aided the cook to prepare the food and one to wash the dishes – the staff was visibly affected by the quality of the air. The Association points out that such conditions may lead to illnesses among kitchen staff and asks for urgent steps to be taken, such as installing new cooker hoods, able to taken in all the steam.

The rest of the rooms in the kitchen area were in good state.

The representatives of APADOR-CH reached the kitchen area at the time when lunch was being prepared. The three meals of the day has required 75 kilos of pork, 9 kilos of pork by-products, 64.4 kilos of lard and 2.4 kilos of chicken legs (for the 12 Muslim detainees). For breakfast, detainees had received tea, marmalade and bread (egg and sausage for diet), for lunch there was bean soup and meat on cabbage, with apples as a supplement for working men and diabetes patients. Dinner was going to include pasta and sauce, potato soup and meat with peas for diet and milk rice for diabetes patients. The food looked and smelled good and the meat was portioned so as to allow each detainee to get a piece.

Other 10 detainees peeled potatoes – all day long, as the cook said – because the peeling machine was out of order. The cabbage was minced by a special machine, the meat was stored in hygienic conditions in the fridge and bread was brought in every day. The food prepared for the day also went to the external section and to arrestees held at the Galaţi police custody facility.

The in-house shop, run by a private company in Galaţi, was well stocked at the time of the visit, including with fresh fruit and vegetables. The shop assistant explained that for certain products, such as tubs and pails, detainees needed permission from the prison management. The buyers of such items were mostly women. The prison management said they restricted the sale of such recipients to men because they could use them to prepare alcoholic beverages, while in the case of women “positive discrimination” was used, because women detainees had “certain needs”.

The shop also included the infokiosk. The Association considers that the information point should be placed on each floor, so that detainees could access information at any time, not just when they visit the shop.

 

Detention sections

The maximum security regime section

The high security regime section included 15 rooms, of which two for high-risk detainees. Two of the rooms were small (10 sq m) and 13 were larger (20 sq m, or 24 if one counts the lavatory and storage).

In Room no. 3, there were 9 beds, on three levels. APADOR-CH reminds that setting beds on three levels in prisons is categorized by the CPT as degrading treatment and therefore recommends that such situations be avoided.

Room no. 3 was one of the largest, with about 20 sq meters of living space and a lavatory of 4 sq m. At the time of the visit, all 9 beds were occupied, meaning that each detainee had 2.2 sq meters of space, much under the 4 sq m limit recommended by the CPT. The prison management was aware of the overcrowding and had created an internal rule, that did not allow more than 10 persons in the same room in the maximum security section. This rule however did not solve the overcrowding problem.

The lavatory included a sink, a Turkish toilet and a shower head above the toilet. Detainees said that cold water was available around the clock and hot water twice a week, for one hour.

The room was also equipped with a fridge and a TV set.

Detainees also said that the periodic searches of the room were done by squads of masked men; during the searches, only the room representative was allowed to be present. They said the room representative was chosen and acknowledged only by the detainees. Received letters were opened in front of the detainees, they said. When sending out mail, they were allowed to place it in the mailbox themselves. Envelopes and stamps were provided by the penitentiary, as many as they needed. One complaint, however, was that food at the in-house shop was too expensive.

The maximum security section, like the rest of the penitentiary, had no alarm system. In special cases, detainees knocked on their doors until they were heard by the supervisors.

Room no. 6, for high-risk detainees, measured 10 sq m and had two beds, which allowed 5 sq m per detainee – a desirable situation. There was only one detainee in the room at the time of the visit and he was going to be transferred to the Bacău Penitentiary within 5 days. The Association recommends that detainees should not be placed alone in rooms and if such situations arise, that a companion should be brought from another room.

In Room no. 1, one of the largest, there were 9 beds, on three levels, 5 of which were occupied at the time of the visit. Had all 9 beds been occupied, there would have been another case of overcrowding. Detainees said the room was warm enough. They complained about the high prices of the merchandise sold in the shop.

 

Women’s section

The prison management said that the section only held women on preventive arrest, during their transit from the Galaţi police custody facility to the Brăila Penitentiary. The women’s section was placed, like the maximum security one, on the ground floor of the building, and included two rooms for open and semi-open regime (mixed together), one room for closed regime and one for maximum security. At the time of the visit, 27 women were held at the penitentiary, 13 of whom were taking a computer class.

In the closed regime room, measuring 24 sq m, there were 9 beds and only two detainees. One of the two women was pregnant. She said she had had frequent health problems and was on a treatment, with injections, to be able to carry on her pregnancy. She also said she had not been taken to a gynecologist as often as necessary and that she wanted to have her child in a civilian hospital. The prison management said that this was not going to be possible. The woman said however that she did receive extra food. The Association points that the prison management is directly responsible for the state of health of detainees and that it is essential they should enable patients and detainees with special needs, like this pregnant woman, to receive all necessary medical check-ups.

The exercise yard measured over 40 meters; the terrain was terraced and had a covered area with chairs. It was also the space where detainees could hang their clothes to dry.

One of the detainees present in the section at the time of the visit, who was on charge for the laundry room, said she was taking a 4 month IT course which would provide her with a diploma. The Association appreciates that women, too were allowed to take training courses, even if they were only in transit at the Galaţi Penitentiary.

 

The closed regime section

The closed regime section had 8 rooms measuring 24 sq m each (lavatory included). Each room had 5 sets of triple bunk beds, therefore overcrowding here was even higher than in the maximum security section. Each detainee had 1.3 meters of living space.

The same situation was in Room no. 5, holding 15 detainees. They said their activities were football, chess and that they were allowed open visits. Some of them took masonry classes in the prison workshop.

Detainees said that lights stayed on throughout the day – if it had been out, there wouldn’t have been enough light to read.

APADOR-CH criticizes the incredible overcrowding in the Galaţi Penitentiary and reminds the prison management that international conventions consider it tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment. Romania was repeatedly condemned by the ECHR for detention conditions, including overcrowding. Also, the Association points out to the lack of natural lighting in detention rooms, which could be solved by removing the wire net from the windows.

 

Preventive arrest section

Section no. 3 of the Galaţi Penitentiary held exclusively persons on preventive arrest.

Room no. 5 had 12 beds on three levels, all of them occupied at the time of the visit. It was also an overcrowded room – at 20 sq meters of space, each detainee had 1.6 sq m.

 

Discussions with detainee M.B.

At his request, the representatives of APADOR-CH talked to detainee M.B.

M.B. had been in quarantine at the Galaţi Penitentiary ever since October 30 and he complained of the poor detention conditions. His complaints also extended to the Rahova Penitentiary and especially to the Galaţi police custody facility. 

There, M.B. said, he had seen rats coming out of the bath drain hole. One night, a rat climbed on one of his room mates. The solution found by detainees in the custody facility was to place plastic bottles filled with water into the drain hole, during the night.

M.B. was unhappy that non-smokers were not held separately from smokers and that in some cases the number of detainees was higher than the number of beds (15 persons in 12 beds in a 20 sq m room). He also said that hot water was provided only once a week and that the room was cold. Heating had been turned on just the day before the visit. M.B. said he had a condition of the cornea and in order to stop its evolution he needed natural light, which was insufficient in the room. He said that he would soul need a visit to an ophthalmologist in Iaşi and that he required a cornea transplant.

Between November 3-6, 2012, M.B. was temporarily transferred to the Rahova Penitentiary. There, he found the same precarious conditions: the window would not close, there was not enough light, the room was damp. He described the prison van used for his transportation as a cage,in which he had to stand for the whole journey, and that he had to relieve himself, like the other detainees, in plain view. Another problem was that, during the transfer, the money on his account, used for phoning his family and lawyer, did not travel with him in time. During the four days spent at Rahova Penitentiary, he had no access to his money, therefore being denied the right to contact his lawyer and his family. The money reached Rahova only after M.B. had been brought back to Galaţi. The problem repeated the other way, from Rahova to Galaţi. At the time of the visit, M.B. said he was still waiting for his money to reach him from Rahova.

M.B. said that the other detainees did not know how to use the infokiosk situated in the food shop and that unless they had money in their accounts they were not allowed to go and use the terminal. He complained that the access to the mailbox was restricted, meaning that he could only post his letters when he was taken to the exercise yard, at 16:30, while the mail was collected at 13:00, delaying the delivery by at least one day. M.B. also said detainees did not receive stamps when they asked.

M.B. said that medication was chronically scarce at Galaţi Penitentiary and that detainees only received Paracetamol. Since he had been brought to the Galaţi Penitentiay, he had witnessed 8 room searches by masked squads. Moreover, he said that the current practice with searches was to take detainees by surprise, early before rise, and to beat them. M.B. added that the detainee who had attempted suicide, as mentioned earlier in this report, had been beaten by prison guards.

M.B. said that he had already complained to the ECHR about the precarious conditions at the Galaţi Penitentiary and about the violation of human rights during detention. He also said that the right to petition was limited in this prison, that detainees did not receive forms to complain to the ECHR, nor stamps to address letters outside the country.

Conclusions and recommendations

1. The most important problem noted at the Galaţi Penitentiary was overcrowding. During the visit, the prison management admitted that Galaţi was the third prison in the country in terms of overcrowding. As the system is aware of the problem, the existing resources should be directed to finding an urgent solution. The Association may offer the example of other penitentiaries, where unused spaces of other institutions were taken and refurbished as to hold detainees, thus reducing the overcrowding.

2. APADOR-CH asks the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP) to observe the recommendations of the CPT,  that consider it unjustified for prison intervention squads to wear masks under any circumstances. The ECHR agreed with the recommendations, therefore APADOR-CH asks that such practices be abandoned in Romanian prisons.

3. The Association asks the head of the ANP to solve the medication supply crisis in the Romanian penitentiary system, by allotting, for instance, a larger budget for the purchase of drugs.

4. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to respond promptly to the needs and requests of detainees, as provided by the law.

Other conclusions and recommendations have been included in the report.

 

 

Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu                                                                   Doina-Adelina Boboşatu