Anti-Torture Committee Urges Moldova To End Persistent Inter-Prisoner Violence and Intimidation

The Republic of Moldova should take resolute action to put an end to inter-prisoner violence and intimidation largely linked to informal hierarchies in the country’s prisons, says the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in a recently published report.

In the report, based on a visit to the country from 28 January to 7 February 2020, the CPT acknowledges tangible progress in certain areas but regrets that some of its long-standing recommendations, notably those concerning inter-prisoner violence, the regime of remand and sentenced prisoners and the low staffing in prisons remained unaddressed.

The problem of inter-prisoner violence and intimidation linked to informal hierarchies was as acute as reported in previous CPT reports. The CPT notes that inmates were regularly found with injuries indicative of inter-prisoner violence; however, they did not report these aggressions due to the climate of fear and intimidation promoted by inmates at the top of the informal prison hierarchy and to a lack of trust in staff´s ability to guarantee prisoner safety.

The CPT considers that the authorities’ continued failure to address this problem is due in particular to a chronic shortage of custodial staff and to reliance on informal prison leaders to keep control over the prison population. Other relevant factors are the existence of large capacity dormitories and the lack of an individual risk assessment of prisoners, as well as of their consequent placement to the most adequate prison, block or cell.

An issue of serious concern for the CPT is the situation of certain categories of prisoners acutely targeted by the informal prison hierarchy who live in a state of constant fear and humiliation, which the CPT considers could imply a continuous violation of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the light of these findings, the CPT makes a number of recommendations and calls on the authorities to act against inter-prisoner violence without delay.

In the three prisons for adults visited (Taraclia, Cahul and Chișinău) most inmates interviewed by the delegation did not make allegations of ill-treatment by staff. Nevertheless, in Chișinău prison the delegation received a few allegations of ill-treatment (punches and kicks) by prison officers and some allegations of excessive use of force against agitated inmates in all three prisons.

The CPT found that conditions of detention were satisfactory in Cahul and Taraclia prisons, but unsatisfactory in Chișinău prison in terms of repair, hygiene, ventilation, access to natural light and overcrowding in some cells. In all three prisons there was an uneven distribution of inmates between cells, an indication of a strong informal prison hierarchy.

Concerning the regime, the report notes that despite efforts made in Taraclia and Cahul prisons, most sentenced inmates were not engaged in purposeful activities, and in Cahul and Chișinău prisons the majority of remand prisoners spent 22 or 23 hours locked up in their cells. The CPT calls on the authorities to step up their efforts to ensure that inmates can spend a reasonable time every day out of their cells engaged in purposeful activities.

The CPT is also concerned about inadequate health-care staffing resources in prisons and about the length of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure, which can be imposed on certain categories of prisoners for up to 20 days and for three days for sentenced juveniles. The CPT recommends that the maximum period of disciplinary confinement is reduced to less than 14 days, and that this practice is abolished for juveniles.

With regard to treatment of detainees by the police, the CPT delegation hardly received any allegations of ill-treatment, although the committee takes note of a considerable number of cases of alleged police ill-treatment reported to the Prosecutor’s General Office. As regards safeguards following arrest, the CPT calls on the Moldovan authorities to reform the legislation to guarantee detainees access to a lawyer from the outset of deprivation of liberty, notably considering that the delegation heard some allegations that this right is sometimes only granted in practice after a first police questioning.

The vast majority of persons interviewed in psychiatric hospitals and social care institutions said that they had been treated correctly. However, the CPT found insufficient numbers of nurses and orderlies in both kinds of institutions. The CPT notes improvements in Chisinau’s psychiatric hospital, although shortcomings remained with regard to the equipment of patients’ rooms and the poor state of communal toilets and showers. It also expresses concern about the routine installation of CCTV cameras in every patients’ room on the forensic psychiatric expertise ward visited by its delegation. In connection to this practice, the CPT recommends that CCTV surveillance is only used based on an individual risk assessment.