Report on the visit to the Târgu Mureş Penitentiary for Minors and Youth (PMT)

Monday - 23 September 2013
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On September 23, 2013, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the Târgu Mureş Penitentiary.

 

General observations, detention space, personnel

In 2009, the Târgu Mureş Penitentiary was re-organized from a closed regime adult detention unit into a center holding mostly male minor and young detainees. However, the penitentiary was also used for transit, therefore not excluding female detainees, who were held here pending trial, for very short periods of time. Also, the external section held adult males who helped with the farm works and with the animals.

The building was very old – since 1884 – therefore detention condition did not observe the current standards and so much less the standards for minors. At the time of the visit, there were 461 detainees (including the external section), while de capacity of the prison was of only 234 places (at a legal standard of 4 sq m / detainee), meaning that the facility held twice the number of persons it was supposed to. From the data provided by the prison management, the facility had about 858 sq m exclusively for detention, which equaled 1.85 sq m per detainee. If the high number of beds that limited free space was also taken into account, it turned out that at Târgu Mureş Penitentiary each detainee had only the surface of his own bed as personal space. APADOR-CH points out to the excessive overcrowding at the Târgu Mureş Penitentiary and asks the prison management and the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP) to find urgent solution to provide each detainee with the 4 sq m of space recommended by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and of Inhuman or Degrading treatment and Punishment (CPT).

The Penitentiary had one detention building and one administrative building. Only the latter had undergone renovation, so that offices and the staff canteen were very well kept. By contrast, the detention building was in disrepair. There were no canteens, so the minors and young men had to serve their meals in the rooms, often on their beds, because some of the rooms had only a table for two for 13-14 detainees.

The prison management said that detainees came from 13 different counties and that distance prevented some of their families to visit on a regular basis, especially since they were from poor families who could not afford the cost of transportation plus that of bringing food for the detainee. The governor said that only a third of the detainees received regular visits, making family and social reinsertion more difficult for remainder of the minors and young men.

The governor also said that it was difficult to work with detainees for their social reinsertion because they were uneducated, most of them not knowing how to keep themselves clean. Behavior problems made them destroy the little furniture and equipment they had in their rooms and the lack of resources made it impossible to replace them.

The staff coming in direct contact with the detainees numbered 125 persons for security, 7 or medical care (two doctors and 5 nurses) and 15 for social and educational activities. The prison management said that even the number of security agents was too small, making it difficult to maintain order. However, the norm recommended by the CPT is at most five detainees per operative agent, and at Târgu Mureş Penitentiary, at the time of the visit, one agent dealt with no more than 3 or 4 detainees. The Association could not see the problem here. Understaffing was real in what concerned the number of medical, social and educational personnel. The prison management and the existing workers admitted the need for extra staff. The only reason for not employing more people was lack of funding.

The governor said that only one death had happened that year: a young detainee had committed suicide by hanging himself. Asked whether the Joint Committee of the Health and Justice Ministries gathered, as provided by the law, to investigate this death, the governor said that never had such a committee come to the penitentiary and that they were unaware it even existed. The death had been investigated by the prosecutor’s office, with the standard procedures.

The penitentiary did not have a special intervention squad (masked squad) but it did have the gear for special force interventions (batons, tonfas, teargas – no firearms). Restraint equipment consisted of metal and plastic handcuffs; chains were used for high risk detainees in special cases (previous escape attempts, for instance), the prison management said.

There was no visual or sound alert system – detainees had to simply knock at the door. The surveillance cameras were only installed on the corridors of the detention sections.

 

The kitchen area

The lunch menu for the day of the visit included noodle soup and beans with bacon; the dinner menu – potato salad. The kitchen staff said that each minor received 100 grams of meat per day and one egg for breakfast once every few days, but there was no ratio of fresh fruit or vegetables.

For Muslim detainees, pork was replaced with beef and chicken soup had been prepared for diabetes patients. They also received a supplement consisting of cheese, bread and one apple.

The penitentiary did not have any canteens so meals were served in the rooms. The Association considers this to be degrading treatment and asks the prison management to find a solution to establish a proper space for serving meals.

The kitchen area was relatively clean. The ventilation system worked, but it was very old and even with the windows open the air was extremely humid and the kitchen floor was wet. The kitchen staff suggested that the working conditions were actually damaging to their health. The damp air and walls in kitchen blocks are a quasi-general problem in Romanian penitentiaries, therefore the ANP should find a solution to improve this situation, for instance by replacing the old ventilation systems.

 

The medical ward

The medical office and infirmary were at the ground floor of the detention building, in section 1.

The staff counted one GP, one dentist, four nurses and a pharmacy assistant. One of the nurses was always present during the night.

The representatives of the Association discussed with the GP who was at the office during their visit. He said that the medical staff was insufficient; he also said that most medical problems occurred because the minors and youth had difficulty adapting to the custodial regime. In the case of young detainees, most medical problems came from inappropriate food (he admitted that the minors received a better diet). The stress caused by detention led to a series of violent exchanges or self-mutilation cases.

The doctor said that 70 detainees had been diagnosed with mental conditions and were under treatment, but in fact there were more detainees who would have required mental care. Because of this situation, the penitentiary had contacted a psychiatrist who came to the facility on a regular basis for consultations and treatment. APADOR-CH notifies the prison management that all detainees thought to suffer from mental conditions must be diagnosed and treated in consequence and that shortage of funds cannot be a reason for them to be deprived of treatment.

The prison did not run a program for former drug users. According to the doctors, detainees were transferred here only after addictions were treated. 23 detainees had declared themselves former drug users – 11 minors and 9 young men. Some of them were also taken into evidence as mental patients and were following treatment.

Some of the mentally disturbed detainees were held in the “psychiatric observation” room, where 11 persons were accommodated in 15 triple bunk beds. The room measured about 24 square meters. The patients confirmed that they were under medication (tranquilizers). Only one of them said that he was seeing a psychologist. They also said that their only activity is going out to the exercise yard. The TV in the room was switched off at 10 p.m.

Condoms were only distributed in the matrimonial room and the prison management said they stopped distributing them freely since 2010, when specialized NGOs had stopped donating condoms to the penitentiary. The Association asks both the ANP and the prison management to introduce a special budget expense chapter for condoms, which are cheaper than treating STDs.

 

 

Social and education department

PMT Târgu Mureş employed 15 people for social and educational activities, although the personnel scheme had 19 positions for that department. One of the 15 employees was on maternity leave, so only 14 were actually on the job at the time of the visit. By profession, they were 4 psychologists 9 educators, one orthodox priest and the director (with administrative attributions).

The staff said that recreational activities (including a camp) were organized in cooperation with a non-governmental organization. The activities followed a monthly calendar, with three outings, for which detainees took turns. Because the facility did not have enough vehicles and budget, detainees had to walk to their outings, which limited the number of participants and the destinations, for reasons of safety.

A candle manufacturing workshop and information sessions on the risks of HIV infection were also run by an NGO that worked with the penitentiary on a regular basis.

Outings also included the Târgu Mureş cinema and the zoo, with which the penitentiary cooperated very well.

The facility had a gym where detainees from all detention regimes (including maximum security) were taken in groups of 12, by rotation.

Among the most frequent qualification courses at the Târgu Mureş Penitentiary were those for carpentry, masonry, food industry, hairdressing. 14 detainees had just graduated the hairdressing course and were about to pass their exam.

In section 4 there was totally empty room that the prison management said was used as an activities club. The representatives of APADOR-CH cannot see how such a room could be used for any activity. Another room in section 5, furnished with a few desks, was destined to the same purpose.

The facility had a library endowed with a large number of books. It was kept locked and could be reached only after crossing three other rooms: the educators’ room, the room where committees gather and the computer hall (also used for psychological counseling). No wonder that detainees only borrowed 15 books per month – according to the library staff.

 

The school

The school of the penitentiary functioned in only two rooms, providing courses for grades 1-9. At the time of the visit, 89 students were enrolled for the new school year. Classes were scheduled to start on September 30, although school had already started elsewhere, in communities. The prison management explained that classrooms needed to be cleaned and prepared after accommodating training courses during the summer. For lack of space, high-school classes were held separately, in a club room in section 5. The classrooms accommodated two grades at a time (1st and 2nd grades together, 3rd and 4th and so on).

For the new school year, the schedule only included courses for grades 1-9 despite the fact that some of the students who had graduated the 9th grade wanted to continue to study for the 10th. The director of the department said that there had not been enough requests to organize 10th grade courses. The condition was that a class should have at most 12 but minimum 8 students. APADOR-CH points out that such a condition deprived detainees from their right to education; special education, as organized at PMT Târgu Mureş, allows for a class to have less than 8 students if the situation arises. Nor is lack of space a reason to refuse to organize courses. The Association asks the prison management to make it a priority to find spaces and organize school classes as requested.

For each school year, a detainee got 30 days deducted from the prison term. The prison staff found that this reward system was discouraging, because deductions were much more generous for detainees who worked, especially for minors (one day deducted for one day of work).

Asked by the Association whether they took into consideration allowing minor detainees to take up classes at community schools, as provided by the law, the director of the department said there had been nor requests in that respect. The Association asks the prison management to inform minors on this legal option.

 

 

The visit to the detention area

At the time of the visit, the penitentiary held 461 detainees, all male, of whom 58 minors, 312 young detainees and 91 adults.

The detention sector was organized into six sections, as follows:

Section 1: closed regime – young detainees and adults; a spare room was saved here for female detainees in transit.

Section 2: closed and semi-open regime – minors

Section 3: semi-open regime – young detainees

Section 4: maximum security regime, high risk detainees and preventive arrest for young detainees and adults

Section 5: semi-open regime – young detainees

Section 6: the farm – adults under the open regime

The 461 detainees were distributed by regime as follows: 85 on preventive arrest; 66 under open regime; 250 under semi-open regime; 45 under closed regime; 12 under the maximum security regime. Three detainees had not been yet categorized, being in the observation/quarantine period.

The lavatories in each room had no showers, only toilets and sinks. Each section had a shower room where detainees were taken to have their bath.

In section 5, a room contained several fridges where detainees could keep the food they received or bought from the penitentiary shop.

 

The visit to the rooms

One detainee in the “psychiatric observation” room asked to talk to the representatives of the Association. He was 21 and had been categorized into the semi-open regime. He complained that at PMT Târgu Mureş he had been filed several incident reports, especially because one agent “terrorized” him and provoked him to cause trouble. The young man said he had injured himself several times in protest, (cutting his arms – the signs were visible), swallowed spoons and tried to hang himself five times. He said he had submitted several complaints to the prison management and to the liaison judge, but none of them had received an answer. He considered that all the letters he had sent outside the prison had been opened at the request of the same agent who treated him inappropriately. He also said he had been hit by that agent on several occasions, even on the corridor, and that images were recorded and could be checked. The Association asks the prison management to identify the agent mentioned by the young man in cause and to check whether his very serious accusations were true, especially since evidence could easily be found in the surveillance videos. Also, the Association asks that mental patients receive, besides psychiatric treatment and psychological counseling, special attention, so as to prevent suicide attempts.

At the maximum security section, section 4, the representatives of APADOR-CH visited one of the rooms. At the time of the visit, it was occupied by four young detainees who shared six beds (two triple bunks) in the 8 square meters piece. The glass panes of the windows had been removed at their request, but were going to be placed back in because the weather was starting to chill. The young men said that they were not taken to any activities other than the daily exercise time and that food was bad. In order to observe the 4 square meter space standard set by the CPT, the Association recommends that this room should keep only two beds and at most two detainees.

The confinement room was in the same section. A room with two beds, large enough to hold more than two detainees, was unoccupied at the time of the visit. The room was insalubrious, cold and with very bad mattresses. The prison staff said that minors were not sanctioned by confinement.

In section 2, where minors served their sentences under the semi-open and closed regimes, the air was stuffy. The representatives of the Association visited Room no. 3 (minors under semi-open regime), which was overcrowded: 21 beds (triple bunks) for 14 minors in a space of about 30 square meters. The detainees said that although they were held under the semi-open regime, doors were locked during lunch time (1 p.m.) and from 5 p.m. till the next morning. Neither minimum standards nor detention regime conditions were observed. Each detainee had about 2 square meters of space if not less, given the high number of empty beds in the room. The Association recommends for the third triple bunk to be taken out and points out that no more than 7-8 people should be held in the room, in order to fall within the 4 sq m/detainee standard. According to the regulations for the semi-open regime, doors should remain open throughout the day, so an urgent solution must be sought to that end. The minors said that they had been taking part in the candle-making workshop every Friday for the previous few months, they were taken to the exercise yard every day and those with no incident reports were also taken to the cinema and football games.

A room from the closed regime section was also visited. The air inside was very stuffy. The room measured about 20 sq m and its five occupants shared 9 beds (triple bunks). The minors said they were satisfied with the food, but that they had no activity except going out for they daily exercise. The mattresses were old and in bad shape, like in the rest of the facility.

The penitentiary had four exercise yards of about 100 sq m on the first floor, all covered in metal wire net. They were not equipped for any type of activity.

The Târgu Mureş Penitentiary also held detainees categorized as high-risk, accommodated in section 4. The representatives of the Association visited one of their rooms. Five young detainees were held in a room of about 18 sq m, with 15 beds (triple bunks). Not all beds had mattresses and those that did had very old, bumpy and dirty ones. Detainees said they were satisfied with the food and that they were allowed to call their families every day if they had enough credit on their phone cards. They complained however about the lack of activity. APADOR-CH asks the prison management to include detainees held under more severe detention regimes in various activities as much as possible, in order to ease their social reinsertion.

 

Visitation, correspondence, work, other rights

Minors had the right to be visited twice a week, for three hours, by two adults and two minors at a time. The visits were open. The parcels they received were opened in front of the families. They could contain at most 10 kilos of food, 6 kilos of fresh fruit and vegetable, 20 liters of water or juice. The prison management said that most children came from broken families and only 30% of them received visitors.

The facility had its own laundry, where bed linen and clothes were washed every two weeks.

The matrimonial room was clean and appropriately equipped; condoms were provided.

PMT Târgu Mureş had an orthodox church on the premises, but the governor said that it was also used by priests and pastors of other denominations, who came here at the request of the detainees (mostly catholic and reformed).

Detainees worked both at the farm and inside the facility, in maintenance and kitchen related activities. But they were also employed in the community – cleaning the city parks, or working at the municipal greenhouses. The penitentiary also ran two assembly lines for electric cable reels and for cardboard boxes. At the time of the visit, 102 of the 461 detainees worked (about 22% of the prison population). 52 were paid for their work (14 worked within the facility, 32 in the community and 6 at the farm). Work at the facility employed 12 young detainees and 2 adults, work in the community 22 young detainees and 10 adults. All farm workers were adults. The remaining 50 workers were not paid but received other compensations, like the deduction of days from their prison term (these were 33 young detainees, 2 minors and 15 adults).

The mail box was located on the ground floor of the detention building and detainees had access to it every day, to mail their own letters.

Each section had a payphone. The cost of phone calls was paid by detainees. The facility also had three info-kiosks, in sections 3, 4 and 5, which could be accessed only by detainees held in the respective section. The prison management said that info-kiosks were planned to be installed in sections 1 and 2 as well.

The representatives of the Association visited the penitentiary shop. The shop assistant said he had been working there for two months and no committee had visited the place to check on the prices. Each detainee was allowed to spend at most 400 lei per week in the shop. Prices were largely similar to those in the community, except for personal hygiene and sanitary products, which cost almost double. There were no fresh vegetable or fruit available at the time of the visit, but the shop assistant said that the request system functioned well and any such products could be brought in if detainees requested them. The Association recommends that prices at the in-house shop be carefully verified, so that products are no more expensive than outside the penitentiary – especially when it comes to items of utmost importance such as personal hygiene products.

Conclusions and recommendations:

  • APADOR-CH criticizes the excessively high level of overcrowding PMT Târgu Mureş and the use of triple bunk beds. The Association asks the prison management to identify other spaces that could be used for detention and to eliminate the upper layer of beds, especially since in many rooms they were not even occupied.
  • The Association recommends that special attention should be given to all detainees with mental problems, so they are appropriately diagnosed and treated.
  • APADOR-CH asks the prison management to fill all the vacancies at both the medical sector and the social and educational sector with qualified professionals.

Other conclusions and recommendations have been included in the report.

Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu                                          Doina-Adelina Boboşatu