Report on the visit to the Buziaş Education Center

27.06.2014
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On June 3, 2014, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Buziaş Education Center. The facility had opened in 2004, but this was the first time APADOR-CH visited it.

 General considerations

According to the new Law on the execution of custodial sentences, Law no. 254/2013, re-education facilities were renamed education centers. Currently, only two such facilities function in Romania, one in Buziaş (Timiş County) and one in Târgu Ocna (Bacău County), each accommodating minors who are domiciled closer to the location. The first consequence of having only two such centers is that the young people held here are often far away from home and families have a hard time visiting them. This is a problem for their future social reinsertion, especially as they usually come from split, monoparental or socially challenged families.

The Buziaş Education Center held persons who had committed a crime while underage and for whom the judge selected this form of sanction. This would be another change brought about by the new law: the centers may now also hold persons over 18. The Buziaş facility also held all female minors convicted for penal crimes, so it had both male and female population, both under and over 18.

At the time of the visit, the center held 75 persons (6 female), of whom 69 minors and 6 over 18.

Judging by the 4 sq. m/person standard, the facility had a total capacity of 128 places, distributed in 4 units, in two buildings with 4 separate entrances. According to the data provided by the facility, each unit had 660.90 sq. m of usable space. All units were organized in the same way: a large living room and a confinement room on the ground floor, and six bedrooms on the first floor. All but one room had a vestibule and bathroom and measured 25.45 sq. m, or 18.45 without the vestibule and bathroom. Since most rooms had five beds, and some even eight (room E 1.17), they did not comply with the legal space standard. The room that had no vestibule and bathroom measured 19.52 sq. m.

The negative consequences of overcrowding were mitigated by the fact that none of the rooms had all the beds occupied and that minors were in their rooms only to rest (13.30 -15.00/ 22.00-06.00). For the rest of the time, they had access to a 35.79 sq. m living room, to a 21.88 sq. m study and a 20.61 sq. m breakfast lounge.

The Center’s department for Security, Records and Minors’ Rights employed 34 persons and had other five vacancies. The department for Education and Psycho-Social Assistance employed 29 and had 4 vacancies, while the medical department had all 4 positions filled. The Center did not seem to suffer too much from lack of personnel, but given the presence of children with special needs, it would be recommendable to have all positions filled and to employ specialized staff for the direct work with the children (pedagogical studies) at the social and educational department, to work with the children (pedagogical studies). According to the management of the Center, many members of that department were former officers or security agents.

The deputy director, who talked to the representatives of the Association, said that by comparison with similar facilities in Spain and France he had the opportunity of visiting during professional exchanges, the Buziaş Center was an institution that observed most standards and offered good conditions for its residents. Indeed, the Center was built after the model of a similar facility in Ohio, US. Its buildings were freshly painted both inside and outside and the grounds were well groomed and pleasant. Moreover, one hectare of land had been recently obtained, to be used for gardening fruit and vegetables for in-house use.

The Center included several buildings – the visitation sector, the administrative unit, the canteen, the school and the accommodation units. Four such buildings were reserved for accommodation, but only two were used at the time of the visit. The minors and young people were placed in one building or the other according to the time of their coming or how difficult they were.

Each building had two entrances, on opposing sides, allowing to split each of them in two separate units and to accommodate two different categories of minors. At the time of the visit, they were organized as follows:

1A – children with behavior issues, dubbed “the naughty ones”

1B – new arrivals, in quarantine

2A – the ones causing no problem and the ones over 18 – separately

2B – girls

The Center had its own school for grades 1-10. For the 9th and 10th grades, classes were held by

teachers of the “Gheorghe Atanasiu” High School in Timişoara.

The new law brought about yet another change starting with February 1st, 2014, when it was enforced: it introduced an overseeing judge in education centers. The judge appointed for Buziaș also oversaw the Timișoara Penitentiary and once a week made the trip from Timișoara to Buziaș.

The deputy manager said that 95% of the residents came from precarious social backgrounds, monoparental families or orphanages, and ended up here with massive gaps in education, with a propensity to rebel and disobey rules, requiring huge efforts from the staff to help them adapt and making their reinsertion more difficult.

It was estimated that the juveniles spent an average of 18 month at the center before being released. The release took place after serving at least half of their sentence, following a hearing by a committee that included the judge, teachers and the psychologist. After an early release, the minor was monitored by a case officer from the probation department until the completion of the whole term. The juvenile was heard by the committee before any decision was made. The Center kept in touch with the family, so it could inform relatives about the release and encourage the juvenile’s going home. If the family could not be found, or reinsertion was not a possibility, the Center worked with NGOs and social services to find a place for him/her to stay. Until a solution was found, the minor was welcome to stay at the Center.

The new law also regulated the sanctions for misdemeanors committed inside centers. Sanctions for reported incidents were expected to increase gradually, up to a maximum 10 days of confinement (from 10 to 18.00 each day, so as not to miss school and other activities).

The deputy director and the chief of the social and educational department said that all the residents of the Center went to school, since this was the point of the sanctions given to them: to help them to reenter society by providing education services. For their presence in school, students were rewarded with credits and two reports that helped them during probation.

The Center received its yearly budget from the National Administration of Penitentiaries in two installments. A few sponsorships (washing machines, car repairs), revenues of working detainees and sales of items they made during their activities (paintings, decorations) added to the budget. In the previous year, 17,000 lei had come from the residents’ work and other revenues.

The Center followed a daily routine: classes in the morning, lunch and rest from 13:00 to 15:00, in the rooms, with closed doors, and social and educational programs from 15:00 to17:00. After dinner, time was spent in the living rooms of each unit until lights-off, at 22:00.

The management said outings were organized every week (swimming, picnics and museums). The discussions with the minors could not confirm this allegation; they said such outings were occasional, especially in summer time, and they did not recall going anywhere during the previous weeks. According to the staff, children from the nearby orphanage visited the Center frequently and three camps had been organized the year before for the residents of the facility.

The Center had a strict anti-smoking policy. According to the staff, the minors and young people here didn’t smoke.

There was no in-house shop at the facility. Any items had to be bought by the staff who made shopping lists for the interested residents.

 

The Social and Educational Department

At the time of the visit, the chief of this service was a trained social worker and the rest of the staff consisted of 3 coordinating educators (of 4 available positions, with the 4th employee on maternity leave), 4 educators (of 6 existing positions), no sports monitor (one available position), 18 overseeing pedagogues with no teaching training (all positions filled), two psychologists (all positions filled) no social worker (one position). In total, there were 28 positions filled, 4 vacancies and one person on maternity leave.

All minors arriving at the facility were included in an institutional adaptation program, after which they all follow an educational program according to their needs. Some of the extra-curricular activities helped their education on: family life, drug use, religious assistance, sports, motivational activities, emotion control, and development of social abilities. A program had about 12 weekly sessions, in groups of 8-12 children. The chief of the department said that each minor participated on average into 3-4 programs per year.

The Center had a carpentry shop that sometimes produced furniture for in-house use, according to the needs. There was also a hairdressing shop where residents had their hair cut. There were photography, music, painting, tailoring and pottery workshops, but they were not used, the management said, because they lacked supplies and specialized personnel. At the time of the visit, the girls were enrolled in a cooking class. Sport activities were organized by supervisors or, in school, with the PE teacher. The Center had an outdoors sports field and a gym, used in winter time. From the summer of 2014, a foundation in Timisoara was going to organize a circus workshop at the facility.

There was no co-operation with the County Labor Agency to organize qualification courses, as was usually the case in penitentiary institutions. The chief of the social and educational department said that they petitioned the Labor Agency asking for help, but there was no interest on the other side.

No priest was employed by the Center, but one Orthodox priest from Buziaş came to the facility on a regular basis and ran various activities with the minors, at the chapel. Residents of other denominations (Catholic, Protestant) were also visited by priests.

 

School

All 75 residents of the Center went to school at the time of the visit –  of whom 58 were enrolled as students and the rest as assisting students. First graders shared the class with third grade pupils and second grade with fourth grade – a solution found in order to comply with the rule of having minimum 8 and maximum 12 students in a class. The Association commends the fact that a solution was found for all the residents to go to school, despite bureaucratic obstacles.

The ninth and tenth grades for technological profile were organized in co-operation with the

“Gheorghe Atanasiu” High School in Timişoara.

The teacher who was available at the time of the visit (classes were on) and who talked to the representatives of APADOR-CH said that teaching materials and supplies were available. The Center also had a generous library, where the info-kiosk was installed as well (but was not functional yet).

The medical office

The medical office employed a GP, two nurses, and one hygiene assistant. The doctor worked for 7 hours every day and the nurses had daily morning/afternoon shifts, with an average of 7-10 medical exams per shift. During the night, the doctor and nurses were called in only in case of emergency. The Center also had a dentist’s office, rather precariously equipped, and a dentist who came in on Thursdays to work on small problems. For serious dental problems, the residents were sent to hospitals in Timişoara.

At the time of the visit, the nurse on duty at the medical office said that the most frequent health problems among residents were respiratory viral infections, dental problems, self-mutilation (25 cases), and injury-causing brawls among minors (27 cases). Seven persons were registered as mental patients and underwent psychiatric treatment. They were frequently taken to a neuro-psychiatric clinic in Timişoara for check-ups. The Association considers this as a positive and necessary solution.

There were no cases of hepatitis, diabetes or HIV infections. According to the nurse, the residents did not have same sex relations; he said they were questioned in confidence whether they were gay or had homosexual sex and none of them said he did. For that reasons, and for lack of funds, the nurse said, the Center had long stopped distributing condoms. The Association considers that condoms should be unconditionally distributed and that the management should be aware it was highly improbable for a minor to avow his/her sexual orientation to an official representative of the facility. The condoms could help avoid the spread of STDs (HIV, hepatitis).

The nurse said that medication supplies were in sufficient quantity. The Center had three infirmary rooms, all clean and well kept. At the time of the visit, they were unoccupied. The nurse also said that no death had taken place at the facility since its inauguration.

 

 

The kitchen area

The cooks were making bean soup, mashed potatoes with meat and pancakes for lunch. The dishes looked and smelled nice, and meat had been portioned for even distribution. For breakfast, residents had had cheese, biscuits, marmalade, eggs, milk, bread and sausages. For dinner, there was meat and cabbage, biscuits, and marmalade. The daily ration of bread was 600 grams, 150 in the morning and the rest for lunch.

The Center employed three cooks who worked in shifts and 4 helps, two for each shift. The kitchen was clean and smelled good, the floor was dry. The management said that the facility also provided food for the external section of the Timişoara Penitentiary, also located in Buziaş. The pantry contained eggs, pasta, tomato juice and sausages. Meat was stored in a fridge. The cook said that the minors received one egg and desert every day and one apple per week.

There was no food prepared for special diet because there had been no such request.

Contact with the outside

Near the entrance to each section there were payphones that residents could use. Each section also had phones where residents could receive calls from their parents on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7.30 to 19.30. Outside that interval, the respective phones were kept under lock.

The visitation right was regulated according to the law. According to the management, only 25% of the minors received regular visits from families, while 40% were visited only once or twice a year. In general, the facility received visitors only once or twice a week. The staff explained that most families had little resources and they preferred to send money to their children rather than spend it on transportation.

On Thursdays and Fridays, between 11:00 and 13:00, parents could speak on the phone with the teachers of their children. Minors received an average of 3-4 parcels per year.

A single mail box was available at the facility, next to the administrative unit. According to the staff, one of the minors collected the letters from all the others and went out to post them. The representatives of APADOR-CH recommend that a mail box should be installed near the football field, so that all residents have unrestricted access to it.

It must be emphasized that the Center had residents from 22 counties, and therefore many of them were at a considerable distance from home. For that reason, supplementary steps must be taken to facilitate their contact with families and more frequent visits.

 

Work

Residents over 16 could have light jobs, for which they were received payment. About 6-7 residents – depending on the available jobs – took part in such activities.

According to the staff, the very small number of residents having employment could be partly explained by the fact that they were all in school and had little time left for a job. It could also be explained by the lack of opportunity, due to the low interest of the labor market to use these young people.

The residents worked at vineyards (harvesting, maintenance) or splitting firewood. They went to work in the company of supervisors, and transportation was provided by the beneficiary.

The visit to the Center

The atmosphere at the Center was relaxed; the minors who spoke to the representatives of APADOR-CH did not mention any problems and said they were content with the conditions and the way they were treated by the staff. In general, rooms were clean, well aired and naturally lit.

Video cameras were installed in communal areas. Footage was archived for 30 days.

Section 2 A

According to the management, the section accommodated the best behaved minors and the young men. The representatives of the Association visited three of the rooms here; in two of them – rooms E 2.2 and E 2.6 – the toilets were malfunctioning (didn’t flush). The third room didn’t have a lavatory, so residents had to use the toilet next door, which was more difficult, especially after lights-off at 22:00.

Section 1 A

Three rooms were visited, including the confinement room on the ground floor, no. E 1.10. The lavatory in this room had a malfunctioning toilet and a broken tap. According to the staff, confinement lasted at most 4 hours per day and the room had recently been used for that purpose.

The representatives of APADOR-CH also visited rooms E 1.10, where the toilet was malfunctioning, and E 1.6, where the lavatory door had no lever.

The representatives of the Association also talked to the girls at the facility. At the time of the visit, the girls were having lunch. They had no complaints about the living conditions and they said they were content about the way they were treated. One of the girls had visible cuts on her body; according to the staff, they were the result of self-mutilation, as the minor in cause suffered from a mental condition.

Conclusions and recommendations

  • – APADOR-CH recommends that malfunctioning toilets should be fixed with priority and that residents should be moved out of the rooms without lavatories, which should be assigned to other purposes;

– Given the special diet needs of young persons, the association asks the management to increase the ratio of fresh fruit and vegetables in the menu;

-A special attention should be paid to residents with psychiatric/behavior problems in order to avoid self-mutilation and brawls. The problem should be approached from a multidisciplinary perspective, providing both counseling and drug treatment, as necessary.

 

Adelina Boboșatu                                                                                         Cristinel Buzatu