Report on the visit to the detention and preventive arrest facility at Police Section 9 in Bucharest

Tuesday - 15 November 2011
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Two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the custody facility of Police Section 9, in sector 2 of the capital, on November 9, 2011. Compared with the previous visit of the Association, in 2006, there were only three visible improvements: an increased number of rooms, from 3 to 4 (but detention space is still calculated by cube meters of air, not by square meters per person, as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been demanding for years); the permission for detainees to have TVs in their rooms (but only their own TV sets); and the introduction of a proper mailbox (instead of the former improvised cardboard boxes) where detainees may place their mail in safety. The facility was closed and refurbished in 2011, from June 29 to November 4.

  1. Detention spaces

Detention rooms, in the basement, are very small (about 12 square meters each, room 3 has one extra square meter for a table and chair) and dark. Windows have metal nets inside, iron bars, then the window and another metal net outside. Of course, natural light is very dim, and the permanent light staying on 24/24 is of no use for the detainees (in order to read, they need to sit right under the bulb). Moreover, the windows can only be opened from the outside, by the guards, of course, and detainees don’t have access to the light button on the corridor, to turn it off, even during the day. Law no. 275/2006 mentions that authorities in custody facilities have the obligation to ensure satisfactory natural lighting, and that permanent lights should be on only if necessary. This is yet another example (about mandatory handcuffing on outings, see below) on how the police ignores ­– or interprets arbitrarily – the provisions of Law no. 275, while claiming to observe its own 2005 regulations, which have never been revised since the Law came into effect in 2006. The Association asks that either one of the metal nets be removed or they be both replaced by larger nets that allow the light in. If these changes are made, the Association also asks for the permanent light to be turned off, at least during the day.

The 22 detainees are all adults, brought in with preventive arrest warrants. Most of them come from Section 7 custody facility, now closed for “repairs”. A coincidence or not, the facility was closed shortly after detainee George-Dan Bălan died there, and mainly because several inmates were interviewed by TV reporters at the windows facing the street. Probably a technical solution is sought that would place detention room windows into a less accessible place.

The representatives of APADOR-CH visited 3 of the 4 detention rooms at Section 9. Rooms 1 (5 persons in 5 beds) and 2 (4 persons in 4 beds) are similar in size. Room 3 (6 detainees in 6 beds) is a little larger, with enough space for a table and a chair, but even darker than the others. In this room, the representatives of the Association talked to a detainee transferred here from Section 7 and former room-mate to the deceased (the case of Dan Bălan, dead in police custody, makes the object of a separate report of the Association). The detainees are provided with a bed, sheets, a pillow and a blanket. All the other necessary items (soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, razors) need to be procured by the detainees. The lavatories are functional and detainees said that hot water was provided every day. Rooms are reasonably heated.

The staff consists of 13 employees, two of whom have been transferred from Section 7. It is unclear why the guards made available by the closure of the Section 7 facility are not distributed to areas where personnel is scarce (for instance, public order), since, to the knowledge of the Association, being a custody facility agent requires no special training, and there are no special courses provided by either the police school or the police academy.

  1. Food, daily exercise, correspondence, visits

Food is provided by Rahova penitentiary. It is of such quality that only detainees who are not visited and have no money eat it. Each person on preventive arrest is allowed to receive parcels containing maximum 10 kilos of food, 6 kilos of fruit and 20 bottles of water or juice per month. They have access to fridges where they can store it and a microwave oven to heat it.

The daily exercise time is more staying in open air than exercising. The exercise “yard” is a 24 square meter cage, but would allow some equipment, like push-up bars. In their absence, the detainees can only stand or walk a few steps. APADOR-CH suggests that sport equipments be installed in the exercise yard and some ball games be allowed. It would also be desirable to organize a club somewhere, to allow detainees do other things than stay in their rooms for 23/24 hours.

Detainees have access to a mobile mailbox, where they may place their letters. The secret of the correspondence seems to be observed. Not the same thing may be said about phone calls. The payphone is placed on the corridor, right outside the office of the supervisors, having the door permanently open. It is practically impossible for the guards no to hear everything the detainees say. Moreover, the phone had been broken for a week, and the staff raised their shoulders, saying that they made “repeated complaints” to Romtelecom, unsuccessfully. Their attitude shows not just carelessness towards the persons they have under custody, but neglect for a legal right, with potential consequences on the right to defense (detainees are in impossibility to contact their lawyers). The Association hopes that the technical problem has been remedied, but asks the Service for detention and preventive arrest of the Bucharest Police Direction to discuss this incident with all its employees.

Visits take place in an 8 square meter room on the ground floor. By the entrance, on the right, there is a separate 1 sq m space, with bars from floor to ceiling, where the detainee is introduced. The visitors stand and talk to the detainee in the presence of a guard, seated less than 3 meters away. APADOR-CH reminds that according to Law no. 275/2006, visits should be supervised visually only, in order to ensure the confidentiality of the communication. The Association asks for the agent to be seated on the corridor, in front of the door, which may remain open for the duration of the visit. At the same time, the cabin should be moved to the window and used only for high-risk detainees. For the others, benches, chair and perhaps a table should be provided. Scheduling may ensure that closed and open visits do not happen at the same time.

3. Handcuffing detainees when taken out of the facility

Law no. 275/2006 provides that handcuffing detainees is authorized only “in exceptional situations” (article 37 par.2), while paragraph 1 of the same article points out that temporary restraining aims at preventing “a real and tangible danger” in cases of escape, violence, bodily harm, destruction of property. The police say that all persons in custody are suspect of planning to escape, therefore handcuffing them for any trip outside the facility is justified and legal. On the one hand, that means overturning the rule, and making exception become the rule. On the other hand, it’s difficult to believe that the police ever bothered to analyze the real and tangible risk of escape for every detainee.

The police are covered by their regulations, dated 2005, prior to Law no. 275/2006, and which have not been updated and harmonized with the new legal provisions.

As a result, all police custody facilities use the practice of handcuffing all detainees, except minors, pregnant women and persons over 60. The measure is taken irrespective of the destination: court, prosecutor’s office, transfer, etc. The Association asks for a radical change of the procedures for leaving the facility, updating the regulations in conformity with article 37 of Law no. 275/2006. That would require an individual analysis of the “real and tangible risk of the detainee committing one of the acts mentioned under paragraph 1”.

a)       Substantial improvement of natural lighting;
b)      Providing a few essential items for individual hygiene, especially for detainees who have no money or receive no visits;
c)      Substantial improvement of visiting conditions;
d)      Abandoning the practice of handcuffing all detainees every time they leave the facility.

Other recommendations have been inserted in the report.

Manuela Ştefănescu                                                                            Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu