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Public Defender’s Special Statement on Situation in Penitentiary Establishments

In 2020, the Public Defender of Georgia published a special report, in which we talked about the fact that the management model of semi-open establishments was based on informal hierarchy of prisoners, where the so-called "prison watchers" provide fictitious order, which aims to silence prisoners and prevent them from talking about their problems.

The publication of this report was followed by public attacks on the Public Defender and illegal actions by the Minister of Justice and the Penitentiary Service, as a result of which, it has become not only difficult but also dangerous for the representatives of the Public Defender's Office to carry out visits and monitoring at the penitentiary establishments. In particular, in recent months, a certain group of prisoners managed by the administration of the establishments and the so-called ‘prison watchers’ have been systematically carrying out verbal attacks, threats and aggression against representatives of the Public Defender's Office.

The purpose of these illegal actions was to hamper our communication with prisoners and monitoring of the prison area. Similar cases occurred:

  • On October 31, 2020, and then again, on January 14, 2021, in Ksani Establishment No. 15, when a specific group of prisoners did not allow representatives of the Public Defender to observe the realization of the right to vote or to interview the doctor of the facility. This is particularly troubling in the light of the fact that one of the inmates of Establishment No. 15 died of complications of COVID-19 a few days ago and family members of several inmates have asked us to visit inmates.
  • On December 4, 2020 and January 13, 2021, in Gldani Establishment No. 8, when one and the same prisoner threatened representatives of the Public Defender's Office and requested that they stop their visit. Establishment No. 8 is a closed facility and it is noteworthy that the above-mentioned prisoner always moves around a specific area of the prison when our representatives visit the facility.
  • On January 13, 2021, in Rustavi Establishment No. 17, when a specific group of prisoners behaved aggressively towards representatives of the Public Defender and requested that they stop the visit as "everything was fine" in prison.

Given the fact that representatives of the Public Defender, during their visits to prisons, face real threats from “informal governors” supported by prison administrations, the Public Defender is considering the possibility of conducting preventive monitoring visits only under additional security measures, which would naturally impede the protection of prisoners' rights effectively. Naturally, the Office will continue to hold individual meetings with prisoners.

It is the result of the influence of the so-called criminal subculture that even though about half of prisoners serve their sentences in semi-open facilities (Nos. 14, 15 and 17), unfortunately, the number of applications received from these facilities decreases year by year. In particular, out of a total of 1 384 applications received in 2020, only 57 were sent by inmates of these three prisons. The above proves the fact that, unfortunately, a number of problems encountered by prisoners cannot reach us and remain unheard due to the so-called prison subculture. Therefore, it is important for us to work proactively in semi-open facilities:

Given the existing situation, we call on:

  • The Government of Georgia to take immediate measures to change the model of managing the criminal subculture in prisons;
  • The Minister of Justice of Georgia to immediately raise the issue of liability of the Director General of the Penitentiary Service, as well as directors of the relevant penitentiary establishments;
  • The Parliament of Georgia to study the illegal model of management of semi-open establishments, by using parliamentary oversight mechanisms, in order to enable all prisoners to address the relevant agency or organization relating to their problems and rights violations;
  • The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to launch an investigation into the cases of obstruction and threats against the Public Defender, in connection with which a proposal has already been submitted to the Prosecutor's Office.

In addition to the above, the Public Defender will provide information to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to visit Georgia to protect the prisoners’ rights.

At the same time, we would like to address Georgia's international partner countries and donor organizations that provide financial assistance to the Special Penitentiary Service - given the scale of the influence of the criminal subculture, involvement of the administration in this process and human rights abuses, it is important that the donor support be spent on substantially improving and rehabilitating this system rather than strengthening the existing vicious management model.

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