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31.03.2010

Number of prisoners is on the rise

   

On 30 March the human rights organization Donetsk Memorial gave a press conference entitled “The Prison System: Progress scarcely noticeable” where it presented its fifth annual report Prisoners Rights in Ukraine – 2009.

According to the report, in 2009 the number of prisoners for the first time in 7 years rose by 1.2%, coming to 147,716 prisoners as of 1 January 2010.  There were 1,774 less convicted prisoners (a total of 108,187 prisoners), but the number of remand prisoners in SIZO rose by 11.4% (+ 3,882 remand prisoners), with the figure reaching 38,030 remand prisoners, as against 32,110 two years ago. There are 321 people behind bars per 100 thousand head of population as opposed to 314 last year. This is almost triple the figure for countries in Western Europe.

Prisoners’ rights: minimal improvements

There were virtually no positive changes in safeguarding human rights in penal institutions during 2009, and violations of prisoners’ rights remain a major problem. This concerns not only the conditions, but also the treatment of prisoners by staff. Respect for human dignity has yet to become a dominant factor in penal policy with current practice based on the demand for strict obedience from prisoners. This is exacerbated by the lack of an effective mechanism for complaints.

Prisoner transfers as a means of punishment

The procedure for placing prisoners in penal colonies and moving them is dependent first and foremost on what the Department wants, with prisoners often unwarrantedly refused a transfer which would mean that they were closer to their families. It is also not uncommon for prisoners, as a form of punishment, to be moved away from their relatives, this being in breach of the European Prisoner Standards.

Incidents receive only formal investigation

There was a decrease in 2009 in the number of reports of protests by prisoners, but there was also a lack of open public analysis of the reason for incidents. The results of investigations into such incidents are not made public and extremely limited and excessively general information about the real course of events and their causes is released to the public, with cases of brutal treatment being denied. Punitive measures are used against prisoners who protest or make complaints.

No fall in the mortality rate

The number of deaths in penal institutions is not falling (761 deaths against 765 in 2008) and the number of suicides increased to 44 (against 40 in 2008). There is a gradual decrease in the number of people with tuberculosis (5 667, against 6079 in 2008), however the number of HIV-infected prisoners rose by 18% - from 5073 to 6069. Medical services are extremely minimal. The medical personnel are not independent of the penal administration, being employees of the Department, and frequently neglect professional conscientiousness to meet the demands of management.

Legal aid to prisoners is virtually non-existent

Prisoners are deprived of access to legal aid. The lack of vital literature in penal libraries is exacerbated by the low level of legal knowledge of personnel and their unwillingness to assist civic organizations and lawyers to provide legal aid to prisoners.

Public monitoring of institutions is limited

Cooperation with the public, mainly NGOs, is restricted to issues of material assistance to the penal system or particular services of a legal or consultative nature to prisoners. The new management of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences had for the first time in 2009 held open public hearings together with human rights organizations, however cooperation with the public is developing very slowly, and there are still cases of arbitrary behaviour by prison managements as seen in Volyn.

Public control over observance of remand and convicted prisoners’ rights, as well as over the activities of penal institutions lacks legislative backing and is extremely restricted.

Constitutional violation in paying prisoners for their work

There is discrimination and violation of the Constitution with regard to prisoners’ remuneration. Convicted prisoners who are working do not have contributions paid into the Pension Fund despite the lack of any legislative grounds for this. As a result, on their release, as well as issues to do with setting themselves up, renewing documents and finding a job, people have to earn money and pay the outstanding contributions to the Pension Fund. There is no State institution which is confronting and dealing with this issue.

The staffing issue within the Department remains acute. When appointing new officials, their professional level is not a priority. The level of social protection for penal staff also remains unacceptably low.

It should be noted that out of 24 proposals in the previous report, 10 have not been implemented at all, and there has been only minor movement on 9 others. Some positive initiatives remain at the level of good intentions.

The full report has been published in Ukrainian here:  http://www.ukrprison.org.ua/index.php?id=1269755987

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