Report on the visit to the Mărgineni Penitentiary

Wednesday - 28 August 2013
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On August 28, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Mărgineni Penitentiary in the commune I.L. Caragiale, Dâmboviţa county. The previous visit had taken place on March 29, 2006.

 

1. General considerations

 

At the time of the visit the all male prison population of this maximum security facility was 922, of whom 22 young detainees and 4 minors in transit. Of the total population, 240 detainees were on preventive arrest and 12 had not been categorized yet. 180 detainees served under the maximum security regime; 444 under the closed regime; 20 under the semi-open regime; and 26 detainees – who worked at the farm – under open regime.

 

The legal detention capacity of the facility in all three buildings was 2,547 sq m – that is 636 places at a standard of 4 sq m per detainee. However, the number of beds was 1,172, meaning that each detainee had only 2.80 sq m of personal space. Compared to the previous visit, in 2006, when the facility held over 1,200 detainees, the prison population was smaller, but compared to the detention capacity, overcrowding remained critical. According to the data provided by the prison management on the day of the visit, the occupation index was well above 100%.

 

The problem of the fresh water supply, also noted during the previous visits in 2002 and 2006, remained unsolved, although investments had been made for the rehabilitation of the water network: pumps and pipes were replaced in the water system of the facility, which was then connected to the public water network of the Caragiale commune. However, according to the prison management, the public network functioned with interruptions, especially during summer. Currently, the penitentiary had two sources of water – a deep well, which could not provide a constant quantity of water as to cover the needs of the facility; and the public network, with its limitations. As a result, detainees had running water three times a day, for one or two hours. The boilers of the facility provided hot water for showers once a week.

 

The precariousness of running water maintained a precarious level of hygiene and generated nervousness and dissatisfaction among detainees, especially in rooms of more than 20 people who had to share one lavatory.

 

The staff totaled 346 employees of whom 247 worked in the operative sector (20 were part of the intervention squad). The facility had 65 vacancies, including for the function of governor, who was replaced by an interim director. According to the liaison judge, the facility had had no less than 8 governors in seven years, the current manager having served on an interim basis for 2 years.

 

Compared with the previous visit, when the representatives of APADOR-CH found 600 detainees employed in furniture making for MULTIPRODUCT Government Business Enterprise (GBE), only 20 detainees were employed at the time of the visit, making wooden doors and manual book binding. The closing, in 2010, of the MULTIPRODUCT GBE was regretted by both the prison staff and by detainees who had worked there. The building of the former furniture factory – owned by the Authority for State Assets Recovery (AVAS) – situated on the premises of the penitentiary, was in advanced state of decay.

 

20 detainees worked for in-house services and other 26 at the farm, which included a 4 ha vegetable garden next to the penitentiary. The facility did not have any other contracts with companies to bring in revenues, only the occasional private orders of furniture for the workshop.

 

 

2. The visit to the penitentiary

 

The facility had three detention buildings, two of which were in an advanced state of decay and required urgent capital repairs. Building no. 1, which was in the best shape, had 4 detention sections, holding detainees under closed regime and maximum security regime. Building no. 2 held detainees on preventive arrest and Building no. 3 held those who worked at the farm, under open regime. They were both in very poor state. By comparison, the administrative building of the penitentiary looked very well.

 

 

2.1. The kitchen area

 

At the time of the visit, lunch was just being served. In the kitchen, the representatives of he Association could find only one detainee who was peeling potatoes and the empty stainless steel containers. The menu was not on display and an inspection of the food showed that the initial menu had been modified (because the zucchini had not been available). The meal consisted of bean soup with meat and potato stew, while the dinner menu announced vegetable stew and milk rice. The kitchen was badly kept, due to chronic lack of cleaning materials and also because no investments had been made here over the last years. Three out of four washing liquid and detergent boxes were empty, the cement floor was cracked in several places and slimy with grease, a foul odor persisted – later it turned out that it came from the toilet used by detainees (in the kitchen area), where the stench was unbearable. The potato peeling machine and the vegetable chopper were rusty, in a state of decay that should have long put them out of use, and so was the cast iron pot used to fry meat or melt lard. The detainees’ cloakroom room was also filthy – the shelf where the rice for dinner was kept crawled with cockroaches. The prison management explained that the kitchen was in such a precarious state because there was no money to buy detergents and because the visit took place right after the meal.

 

 

Some of the detainees who talked to the representatives of APADOR-CH complained about the quality of the food. Indeed, some of the containers returned to the kitchen full, indicating that the food had been refused. In the rooms, detainees had their own food on the tables. The only items that looked and smelled good were the bread loafs brought from a bakery who worked on contract for the facility. Thee governor said that, given the budget restrictions, it took a great deal of effort to provide the necessary daily food for the detainees.

 

 

2.2. Detention rooms. Building no. 2

 

The 240 detainees on preventive arrest were held in Building no. 2, a building that had not seen any improvements over the last years, on grounds that it had been earmarked for capital repairs. According to the law, once the building was included in the capital repairs plan, no investment was allowed. However, the funding for reconditioning was not available yet and the life conditions for persons held under preventive arrest had become unacceptable.

 

In room 58, for instance, measuring no more than 20 sq m, there were 21 men in 21 beds (triple bunks). The walls were dirty and detainees complained that bedbugs had nested under the limestone crust on the wall and they could no longer get rid of them. The prison management claimed that several disinfestations were attempted, to no result. The lavatory was in decay, with damp walls, dripping pipes and a single Turkish toilet. Since running water – detainees said – was available only three times a day, for one hour at a time, they had to fill a 60 liter plastic barrel with water and scoop it with a mug to flush the toilet, or for any other needs. Next to the toilet, another water-filled barrel was used as a cooler. A melon and a few bags of food floated in it. Drying clothes hung on lines – detainees said they washed their clothes and bed linen themselves, in tubs, as well as they could.

 

Aside from the lack of water, detainees also complained about the bad food, the penury of medication, the fact that, although they were only under arrest and had to be given the benefit of the doubt, they were treated like maximum security prisoners, being allowed only “two hours of air” – that was one outing to the exercise yard per day. The exercise yard had no roof, therefore no protection against scorching sun, rain or snow. Detainees said they were taken to so-called social and educational activities once a month, but they were only asked to cross some answers on quiz forms, from which they learned nothing, only to check another activity on the list.

 

Although each detainee had his own bed at the time of the visit, they said there had been days when they were 24 in the room and had to share. There were also situations when old detainees could not climb in the uppermost bunks and preferred to share a lower bed with someone else.

 

The problem of medication was critical, according to detainees. They said that the doctor never provided the necessary drugs on the spot and when they made a request to buy the drugs, the approval took a long time.

 

The window of the room had been taken off its hinges in spring, but detainees complained that the weather had started to chill at night. The windows were usually put back in place in September in all the rooms, detainees said. The prison management said that windows were taken out at the request of detainees, to allow a better airing of the rooms.

 

Detainees also signaled that they had not received soap or toilet paper in three months and did not recall to have received any detergent to clean their rooms the whole year.

 

Several pay phones connected to a private communication network were installed on the corridor of the section. Detainees could use them if they had a card, but they complained that the fee was too high: for the 40 minutes they were entitled to per day they would have to pay 50 RON. Phones had no booths, so any conversation could be overheard by other inmates or by the guards.

 

 

2.3 Building no. 1, section 4 – maximum security

 

The section for high risk detainees was better maintained and rooms were smaller, with fewer beds. There were rooms with 7-8 beds and rooms with 2-3 beds. Although hygiene conditions were better, the lack of water made it necessary to use the same improvisations in order to keep the lavatories functional.

 

The phones installed on the corridor were of the same type as in Building no. 2. The only pay phone where one could have some confidentiality was the one in the exercise yard of the maximum security section. The yard had an elongated shape, with no equipment other than a bench and a transparent plastic shade. No alert system was available, so a detainee who needed something had to knock at the door. Detainees were handcuffed each time they were taken out of the room (including for visits), except when they went to the exercise yard, and were accompanied by masked agents.

 

The masked agents were constantly present in the section and the representatives of APADOR-CH took note during their visit that the prison management had not learned about the ANP order to identify each masked agent with a id number placed on the uniform and therefore had not followed it. The id number was marked only on the helmet, but more often than not intervention squads did not wear their helmets, only the masks. APADOR-CH asks the ANP to check whether all penitentiaries followed its decision about giving up the masks and about the obligation to mark id numbers on the uniform, in full view.

 

 

The case of Alexandru Valentin Toboşaru

 

The representatives of the Association talked to detainee Alexandru Valentin Toboşaru, who said that on August 8, 2013, his room mate A.C.N. hammered a nail into his head. This led to an intervention of the masked squad, who acted in full force. Later, the same detainee threatened he would cut his throat using a shard of mirror. During the intervention, one of the agents stepped on Al. Toboşaru’s wrist and hit him several times on the back. The medical records show that, as a result of this incident, Al. Toboşaru suffered a contusion on his left hand and had to wear a removable splint. The detainee asked for a forensic certificate to prove the injuries, but on the day of the visit the document could not be found in his record file. According to the detainee and his room-mate, A.C.N, the incident was not recorded on camera by the penitentiary staff – which raised suspicions on the actions of the intervention squad. On august 14, 2013, the squad made another intervention. This time, Al. Toboşaru was pushed down to the floor and suffered a contusion on his right knee, which was fixed with a removable splint. The intervention was filmed. At the time of the visit, Al. Toboşaru wore an elastic bandage on his knee and leaned on a crutch when he walked. The medical record indicated that in 2010 the detainee had sprained his right knee and had been repeatedly examined by orthopedists since.

 

The incidents involving Al. Toboşaru happened in the context of a quarrel with other inmates and his outrage that penitentiary staff did not do anything to stop the conflicts. It would be indeed hard to expect from a psychologist overseeing 900 detainees to be able to manage the specific outbursts of the prison environment – especially in a place where a large number of detainees had antisocial behavior.

 

On this background of existing conflict, APADOR-CH considers it necessary for the representatives of the penitentiary to find alternative solutions to end conflicts among detainees, using force only as a last resort. The Association recommends that all interventions of the masked squad should be filmed, in order to be able to analyze later whether they were justified and whether the actions of the members of the squad were correct.

 

 

 

2.4. Medical care

 

Medical care was provided by a single doctor and 5 nurses, plus a pharmacy assistant, a dental technician and an administrative assistant. When the doctor was on leave, as it happened at the time of the visit, he was replaced by a coordinating nurse.

 

The nurse said that detainees were taken to the Târgovişte Clinic for exams. But since the clinic did not offer consultations on every specialty, sometimes they had to be sent to penitentiary hospitals or to nearer civilian hospitals. Both the nurse and the governor pointed out that some clinic doctors refused to see detainees because some of them had made complaints or even sued medical staff in the past. This was why scheduling a detainee for a medical exam at the clinic took so long, they explained.

 

Given the overwhelming ratio between the number of detainees and medical staff, the number of exams scheduled daily was very high – an average of 166 per working day. That meant 2-3 minutes spent with each patient, a speed at which the quality of the medical service was bound to suffer. APADOR-CH asks for urgent steps to be taken to provide appropriate medical care.

 

The infirmary had seven beds for detainees who required to be kept under watch and two isolated rooms for those with contagious disease. The nurse said no HIV or hepatitis tests had been taken over the last years and no condoms were distributed to detainees, despite the fact that, on the previous day, a detainee had been sexually molested and had been taken to the Forensic Institute for an exam and a forensic certificate.

 

APADOR-CH asks that condoms are provided to detainees throughout detention, by distributing them with no registration or formality, either directly to the rooms or at the medical office. It is the simplest and cheapest method to prevent sexually transmitted disease.

 

 

2.5.    Cultural and educational activities

 

The department employed 13 people (including an orthodox priest), of whom one psychologist, one social worker, six educators and four agents. The prison management admitted that one psychologist could not handle the large prison population and that many detainees never met the psychologist during their whole stay at the penitentiary.

 

The usual education programs of the ANP were theoretically under progress here, too, but in practice most detainees were not included in any program at all. The governor said that professional training programs could not be run with maximum security detainees because they did not qualify as detainees pending release, as required by the law. Persons under preventive arrest were not eligible for qualification courses either, since they had not been sentenced or categorized yet. Asked what they did all day, detainees on preventive arrest said they did nothing except take their meals, go to the exercise yard or clean their room. One of them said they had never seen the priest, either.

 

In Building no. 1, an activity club was organized in two rooms, one for various programs and one with a ping-pong table. During the visit by APADOR-CH, the club was opened and it looked like it had not been used in a long time. The governor admitted that the ping-pong table had been installed two weeks earlier, but he was unsure how to use it because a championship among detainees could not be organized while maximum security detainees were not allowed to interact with detainees in other rooms.

 

The prison management said that no new staff had been hired since 2009 and that there were many vacancies in the social educational department, as well as in other departments. The governor offered two reasons why the positions remained vacant: some were blocked at national level by a Government Emergency Ordinance, others were not attractive enough for the graduates of police or guards schools.

 

APADOR-CH considers that failing to involve detainees in educative or cultural activities was a drawback for their social reinsertion after release and, more seriously, added to the negative state of mind and dark atmosphere among detainees. Moreover, some rooms did not even have a TV set or any other information source. The Association recommends that educational programs and occupations for detainees should be diversified.

 

 

2.6 The liaison judge

 

The liaison judge was at his third mandate at the Mărgineni Penitentiary – where he had been working for a total of 7 years. He complained about the penury of office supplies – also noted by the governor. He said he heard many detainees every day – 4,300 hearings only in 2012 – and that he was informed about any incident in the penitentiary, especially if it involved an intervention of the “masked” squad. According to the governor, the squad recorded their interventions with a video camera, and the videos can be watched at the request of the liaison judge. However, several detainees complained that the judge failed to answer them when they pointed out to certain problems. It was true, they had only complained in verbally, not in writing.

 

 

2.7. The carpentry workshop

 

20 detainees worked at the penitentiary workshop. They made wooden doors, sculpted chess figures or bound books for the University of Bucharest. The atmosphere in the workshop was the most relaxed in the whole facility.

 

The prison management said it was becoming more difficult to find detainees whose sentences and categorization allowed them to take part in service activities and actual jobs. Most of those held at Mărgineni were convicted for crimes such as drug traffic, human traffic or organized crime, which were incompatible with a permission to work at the penitentiary.

 

 

2.8. The shop

 

The in house shop was very well stocked with all products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, and had prices similar to supermarkets. In most rooms, detainees had food and products bought here on the tables, even if some of them complained that prices were high.

 

 

3. Conclusions and recommendations

 

The poor detention conditions, lack of water, bad food, overcrowding and lack of activity created a visible state of nervousness among detainees at this penitentiary.

 

APADOR-CH recommends:

 

  • Solving water supply problems;
  • Speeding up the funding of capital repairs at Building 2;
  • Sanitizing the kitchen or, as an alternative solution, outsourcing the service (by contracting a catering company). Thus, the prison management would no longer have to manage the purchase of raw materials and preparation of food, dismissing suspicions about the quantity and quality of the ingredients used for cooking (especially the meat).

 

Other conclusions and recommendations have been included in the report.

 

Nicoleta Popescu                                                       Dollores Benezic