Report from the visit of the delegation of human rights NGOs to Tetovo Prison in FYROM on 29 June 2004
The IHF delegation visited the Tetovo prison on 29 June 2004 and spent there three hours. It had an initial talk with the Director and the staff and then visited the premises. The delegation was able to see the entire prison and to speak privately with a number of sentenced prisoners, as well as with other members of the staff. The delegation was also able to see some documentation. The cooperation of the prison administration was at a very good level.
The team interviewed a number of sentenced prisoners and, at the end, asked the Director to suggest a prisoner to be interviewed. He chose a Macedonian from Tetovo who was sentenced to five months, but had only spent 20 days in the prison so far. There were no discrepancies between the stories of the prisoners that the delegation interviewed independently and the one suggested by the Director. The fact that the Director chose a prisoner who had only been in the prison 20 days and was a Macedonian does not suggest that he had a selective approach to those prisoners who he considered ought to be interviewed by visitors. On contrary, being ethnic Albanian (as well as the most of the inmates) the Director wanted, as he claimed, an ethnic Macedonian to express whether he felt there was something wrong (particularly on ethnic basis).
1.3.1. General data
Tetovo prison is a small prison, built in the period 1958-1961. According to the Director in 2003 it underwent partial renovation, although we saw no visible evidence of this. The Director was an Albanian, former high school teacher, who became a director 15 months ago, as part of the government’s policy to appoint more Albanians to top government offices in line with the Ohrid Agreement.
Tetovo prison is a semi-open facility for male prisoners sentenced to up to 2 years imprisonment, male and female prisoners convicted of minor crimes, and male and female prisoners held in pre-trial detention. Only first-time offenders are sent there, or recidivists who have been convicted of minor crimes and sentenced to less than six months.
The prison’s capacity is 50 prisoners. On the day of the visit there were 70 inmates, i.e. it was 40% overcrowded. The prison had 2 female remand prisoners and 26 male remand prisoners on the day of the visit. One person had been transferred to Skopje due to illness.
The Director told us that the main criteria for segregation were the types of crimes committed, but in the light of what we saw this remark did not make much sense, as all prisoners were held together during the day. The only prisoners who were permanently separated from the others were those held in the remand ward. Male and female prisoners in the remand ward were held in separate facilities although the female remand prisoners were guarded by male guards.
The prison held Albanian, Macedonian and Roma prisoners. They were held together and were not segregated according to ethnic criteria. Most of the prisoners were Albanians from the regions of Tetovo and Gostivar.
1.3.3. Material conditions and hygiene
The delegation saw the pre-trial unit, the unit for sentenced prisoners and the auxiliary premises (toilets, day rooms, the kitchen etc.). All cells for sentenced prisoners were of a dormitory type. Members of the delegation saw the following facilities:
- A dormitory for sentenced male prisoners, about 10 sq. m., with eight bunk-beds. The sheets and the mattresses were clean. There was sufficient daylight in the room coming from a big window. There were, however, no cabinets for personal belongings.
- A dormitory for sentenced male prisoners, about 18 sq. m., with 12 bunk-beds. The sheets and the mattresses of the beds were clean. There was sufficient daylight in the room, but again there were no facilities for personal belongings.
- A dormitory for sentenced male prisoners measuring 10 sq. m., with seven bunk-beds. The sheets and the mattresses of the beds were clean. There was sufficient daylight in the room, but there were no facilities for personal belongings.
- A toilet facility, which was rather small and dirty. It was a room of about 5 sq. m. with three sinks, one shower and one toilet.
All the dormitories were empty. Their inhabitants were in a small square adjacent to the main building, which was covered with asphalt and surrounded with smaller buildings – the dining room, a day room and a toilet facility. The average space per capita in the dormitories was between 1.25 and 1.5 sq. m. per capita, a rather cramped and overcrowded situation, even taking into account the fact that the prisoners only sleep in their rooms.
Two prisoners of those interviewed said that the situation in the dormitories was cramped, but bearable in the summer as the prisoners spend their entire day outdoors.
The dining room had several tables and no chairs. The latter were used by the prisoners when they wanted to watch TV or sit in the square. They had to bring them, as well as some benches in every time they eat.
The delegation visited the wing for pre-trial detainees, some of the cells of which were also used as punishment cells. We saw the following facilities:
- A cell for men measuring 6 sq. m. for two people, who stay locked up throughout the day except for one hour of outdoor exercise. It had a small toilet and washing facility. The cell did not have direct access to natural light. There was a small lamp above the door and a small window facing the corridor, which had windows. It was not possible to read during the day. The cell was also used as a punishment cell.
- A pre-trial detention cell for women measuring 12 sq. m. for two people, who stay there locked up throughout the day except for one hour of outdoor exercise. There were two chairs and a table and sufficient access to natural light. The toilet facility was separate and there was another shower room adjacent to the cell.
The wing for pre-trial detainees had its own area for outdoor exercise, which was big enough. Taking into account the total amount of space and the custody regime, however, the entire pre-trial detention facility could be fairly assessed as inhuman.
Prisoners had a possibility to take a shower once a week in winter and twice a week in summer. Those who worked could take a shower every day.
1.3.4. Medical care
The prison did not have any medical services, neither a special medical department, nor physicians. It had an agreement with the Medical Center in Tetovo, which arranges medical care for the prisoners. Twice a week a doctor visits the prison (Tuesdays and Fridays). The Director showed the delegation a journal where the doctor’s visits were registered. According to this register, the doctor was only able to conduct 12 medical examinations a day (altogether in this journal, which had been kept for over a year, there were 53 doctor’s visits recorded). As for emergency medical services, they were apparently available when needed, but there was no record of any emergency medical visits during June. The prison administration calls emergency medical aid when it needs certification of the symptoms of prisoners’ physical abuse.
Prisoners were not checked for any medical conditions before they are admitted to the prison. This happens only when the doctor visits the prison.
According to the Director, the caloric value of the food is determined by law. However, he was not able to tell us which law provides for this. The prison does not serve pork since most of the prisoners are Muslims. On the day of the visit there were no prisoners who were on a special diet prescribed for health reasons. The Director told the delegation that if they had inmates with such needs, the prison would be able to prepare for them special meals. The prison did not have a canteen where the prisoners could buy food. The prisoners could buy from outside shops when they were on vacation, through the prisoners who work or through the prison staff.
None of the prisoners interviewed by the delegation complained about the food. One prisoner said that the food includes about 50 g of meet three or four times a week. Some of the prisoners received parcels from their relatives.
1.3.6. Discipline and punishment
The Director claimed that he uses disciplinary punishment very rarely, mostly in order to punish those prisoners who did not return from home leaves. He also claimed that he would punish a prisoner for not returning from a home leave with a maximum of 15 days of isolation cell. The punishment may include also withdrawal of some privileges. There were no special disciplinary cells in the prison. For punishment the administration used one of the cells at the pre-trial unit.
The procedure for imposing any disciplinary punishment includes submitting of a report by the officer responsible for re-education with a recommendation for the appropriate type of punishment. Then the Director issues a punishment order. There is a possibility for appeal to the Directorate for the Execution of Sanctions, but, according to the Director, this is not used by the prisoners. No judicial review exists. The Director said that during his term in office he was not aware of any use of physical force by the guards against the prisoners and did not know of any cases of sexual abuse amongst the prisoners. He was also unaware of any cases of police brutality.
The delegation interviewed one prisoner who spent 15 days in a disciplinary cell, punished by the Director, because he did not return on time from a weekend leave. In the disciplinary cell he was alone and spent all the day in the cell, without outdoor exercise and even received his food in the cell.
1.3.7. Work in the prison
Only eight inmates of the Tetovo prison had jobs. Seven of them worked outside the prison and one in the prison. The Director was not able to inform the delegation how many hours they work and what their salary was. We were only told that prisoners could keep for themselves 20% of the amount they earn and that their work was safe.
Work is a major privilege in the Tetovo prison as it brings money to those who work and varies their days while in prison. Those who work also had the opportunity to shop from outside shops since the prison did not have a canteen.
There was almost nothing that the prison offered in terms of organized activities. True, as it was a semi-open facility, prisoners could go home for the weekend as a reward for good behavior. Other than that, however, their days passed hanging around in the square, watching TV and playing games, all in the one place. Prisoners who were interviewed by the delegation expressed their boredom with this way of life and a desire to have organized activities, including some outside the prison.
1.3.9. Contacts with the outside world
The major contact of the prisoners with the outside world were the weekend leaves. According to the Director very few of them write letters and those who do usually mail them during the leaves or ask other prisoners to do this for them. The correspondence of the remand prisoners was monitored by the investigative bodies. Prisoners could also make phone calls from the prison.
The delegation found during an interview with one prisoner that prisoners who appeal their sentences were not entitled to weekend leave.
The prison was visited for inspection purposes by the President of the Tetovo District Court and by investigative judges once or twice a month. There were two visits in June, and before that only one visit a month since the beginning of the year. The visitors monitor the living conditions of prisoners. The delegation was able to see the book in which they wrote their recommendations and discovered that only once the inspectors had made a recommendation concerning hygiene. No concern was raised with regard to the overcrowded situation.
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