Public access to penal institutions constantly under attack


The civic organization Donetsk Memorial has addressed an open letter to the management of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences with regard to ever increasing restrictions preventing members of the public from visiting penal institutions. The letter points out that the management treats the public like “unnecessary hassle”. It also stresses that the lack of open access fosters a rise in violations of prisoners’ rights as well as of penal staff, with such abuse being consistently concealed by the Department.

In the letter addressed to Major General Iltyai, Acting Head of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department], the Head of Donetsk Memorial Oleksandr Bukalov mentions that in response to a previous approach, the Department had informed them that the newly imposed restrictions allowing visits from civic organizations and the media only at the weekend were in order to establish order with regard to access by these groups to penal institutions.

Oleksandr Bukalov points out “public access to penal institutions is regulated by Article 24 of the Penal Code and any additions to this norm may only extend opportunities for access, not restrict them. The Instruction from the Department on the contrary restricts them.

This Instruction also fails to comply with 90.1 of the European Penitentiary Rules”.

“Your assertion that “visits to penal institutions and pre-trial detention centres [SIZO] require additional measures to safeguard security which distracts personnel from fulfilling their direct duties” demonstrates that the management of the Department continue to view cooperation with civic organizations as something which is not part of their direct duties, as something extra, secondary and not compulsory. This contravenes the above-mentioned norms of the European Penitentiary Rules and Item 4.8 of the Department’s Regulations which stresses that the Department should ensure the involvement of civic organizations in educational work. This restriction is in fact preventing the involvement of the public.”

The letter goes on to state that the assertion that no complaints have been received from civic organizations first cannot be used as an argument for restricting rights not envisaged by legislation, and secondly is not correct since there have been many examples where access has been obstructed.

One such example was the obstruction shown by the Head of the Volyn Division of the Department Mr Stfanovsky to a visit by the Acting Chair of the Supervisory Committee attached to the Volyn Regional State Administration. Numerous complaints have thus far had no effect on Mr Stfanovsky. Not only has the Department not taken action to stop such unlawful behaviour from its division personnel, but Mr Stfanovsky was actually put forward recently for Cabinet of Ministers’ recognition!

Oleksandr Bukalov goes on to state that such restrictions seriously hamper work with prisoners being carried out by civic organizations in providing legal, psychological and other assistance. For those members of the media and civic organizations who work a normal week, this means that they are also forced to work at the weekend.

“Such visiting regulations render meaningless opportunities for the public to monitor penal institutions. These opportunities are already minimal and if civic organizations are forced to work according to the Department-imposed timetable, they will become a total farce.

This Instruction yet again demonstrates that the Department which talks a lot about democratizing and humanizing the system is in fact acting to restrict as much as possible public access to penal institutions, making the penal system even more closed from view.

This approach to important issues of cooperation with the public is very disturbing since it creates the conditions for widespread abuse of human rights in penal institutions.

We call on you to revoke this Instruction as soon as possible.”

Oleksandr Bukalov

Head of Donetsk Memorial and of the Penitentiary Society of Ukraine

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