Public Defender's Report on the Monitoring Carried out in Four Penitentiary Establishments
The Special Preventive Group of the Public Defender of Georgia conducted monitoring in penitentiary establishments N2, N8, N14 and N15 in July and August 2019. Visits were made to the largest semi-open and closed facilities. The systemic and characterizing aspects of each institution were analyzed in a complex manner, based on the information obtained during monitoring.
One of the main focuses of the monitoring was to examine the extent and forms of informal governance in the institutions as the above poses a serious threat to prisoners' ill-treatment, which leads to violence and oppression among prisoners.
According to the information obtained by the Special Preventive Group, there is no violence-free environment in the facilities, which is manifested in physical and psychological violence among inmates, criminal subculture, and the lengthy and inappropriate use of de-escalation, solitary confinement and internal classification cells.
The institutions are overcrowded and there is a shortage of staff, which tempts the administration to delegate the functions of conflict resolution and "keeping order” to informal rulers.
The establishments, where the impact of informal governance is high, are characterized by physical and severe psychological violence among prisoners. Psychological violence is mainly manifested in extortion, humiliation, marginalization and other acts. Criminal subculture is particularly prevalent in semi-open establishments, where informal rulers are privileged and force other prisoners to obey informal rules. It was found that prisoners are not properly aware of their rights and responsibilities and refuse to exercise their right to complain due to the influence of criminal subculture and fear of repression.
It should be noted that prisoners, with only few exceptions, do not speak about the physical abuse by prison staff. They mainly talk about psychological violence and unethical behavior.
A significant challenge remains the practice of lengthy, inappropriate and punitive placement of inmates in the de-escalation rooms, which has long been described by the Public Defender as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The visit made it clear that inmates are mostly placed in the de-escalation rooms for a maximum period (72 hours) and that one and the same person may be placed in the de-escalation room continuously, with intervals of just a few minutes or hours.
Due to the lack of psychosocial support services or other resources of management of situations, the administration places a prisoner with mental health problems in the de-escalation room for a long time. The Public Defender/Special Preventive Group emphasizes that the prolonged placement of prisoners in the de-escalation room and the failure to provide appropriate psychiatric care violate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It is unfortunate that the relevant authorities do not effectively detect or document alleged ill-treatment. In particular, doctors do not identify a possible link between an injury and torture or ill-treatment. Even when they document injuries in an appropriate form and send them to the General Inspection Department of the Ministry of Justice, the investigation is not effective.
The sanitary-hygienic conditions in the cells, solitary confinement and internal classification rooms, as well as in showers, are still unsatisfactory. Granting prisoners the right to walk for more than an hour remains a challenge in the closed facilities, which has a serious impact on their health.
In terms of penitentiary health care, the number and qualifications of medical staff, proper medical documentation, medical confidentiality, timely medical referral and preventive health care remain problematic. In addition, the lack of staff makes it difficult to provide quality psychiatric care.
It is to be welcomed that the Special Penitentiary Service expressed its opinion on the assessments made in the report before the publication of the report. The Special Penitentiary Service agrees with the recommendations of the Public Defender to some extent and aims to transform the larger penitentiary institutions into relatively small ones in order to improve the situation there. The Public Defender welcomes the idea of transforming institutions, if their goal is to develop a human rights-based system focused on positive changes in the behavior of convicts, their rehabilitation and thus their reintegration into society.
In order to prevent ill-treatment of prisoners, it is important that the Special Penitentiary Service and other state agencies properly review and analyze the cases described in the report and take timely steps to effectively implement the recommendations. The Public Defender of Georgia will also send the report to the Parliament of Georgia.