Liviu Dragnea’s imprisonment puts the spotlight on Romania’s prison conditions

Romania’s prison conditions were under scrutiny earlier this year due to a report by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). 

The spotlight intensified with the imprisonment of Liviu Dragnea, the leader of country’s Social Democrat party, drawing international attention to concerns over abuse of prisoners by staff, inter-prisoner violence and allegations of police ill-treatment.

Mr Dragnea’s imprisonment featured heavily in the international media, perhaps unsurprisingly, given his previous strong influence in Romania and contrast with his downfall. But the conditions in which he would now have to live also sparked interest.

The CPT report states that, during their visit, they were made aware that allegations of physical ill-treatment of prisoners by prison staff were received. The CPT found particular reference to members of the masked intervention groups based in four of the five prisons visited. They found the situation at Galati prison particularly alarming where a climate of fear was evident. 

The report detailed several allegations of ill-treatment by staff corroborated by medical evidence and raised serious concerns over the lack of recording of injuries by the health care services and failure to investigate allegations effectively. In the light of the grave findings, the CPT questioned the raison d’être and modus operandi of the masked intervention groups.

There have been calls on the Romanian authorities to reconsider their continued existence. 

The CPT’s report also documented several cases of severe beatings and sexual abuse by prisoners in their cells, notably among young adult prisoners at Bacău Prison. The CPT urged the authorities to put in place a cell-share risk assessment process for each person entering prison before they are placed in an admission cell, followed by drawing up and implementing an individual risk and needs assessment.

As part of the strategy to combat inter-prisoner violence, the CPT recommended that the authorities invest far more resources in recruiting additional staff and developing their professionalism and training. Such an approach would also enhance the efforts underway to offer prisoners purposeful activities to prepare them for reintegrating into the community.

The CPT’s findings showed that the health care services in the prisons visited were in many instances not providing an adequate standard of care. Conflicts of interest for health care staff represented a major underlying problem which eroded the patients’ trust in their clinicians. The CPT recommended that the Romanian authorities ensure that clinical staff are truly independent of prison staff. The report also highlighted the lack of psychiatric input evident in all the prisons visited, and that inmates suffering from a mental health illness had to cope with conditions of detention which impaired both their mental and physical health.

The CPT noted a number of allegations received from detained persons of physical ill-treatment by police officers, (many of which were corroborated by medical evidence). The allegations were primarily about slaps, punches, kicks and baton blows inflicted by police officers against criminal suspects either at the time of arrest or during questioning at the police station, allegedly for the primary purpose of coercing a confession. 

The CPT also commented on the investigation into allegations of police ill-treatment and recommended that prosecutors strictly apply the criteria of effectiveness.

The CPT criticised the holding of criminal suspects and remand prisoners in police arrest detention centres for up to two months or more, where they are exposed to a greater risk of intimidation and pressure. These concerns are accentuated by the poor material conditions, inadequate health care and the impoverished regime for persons held under arrest at detention centres. 

The CPT urged the Romanian authorities to consider converting arrest detention centres into proper pre-trial detention facilities and placing them under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and the National Prison Administration.

Since the CPT’s report, there have been further concerns that an electronic monitoring system (using electronic bracelets) has been introduced, without any clarity over who will manage this system or who will take responsibility for importing the technology.

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James Wilson

James Wilson

James Wilson is a Founding Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance. He is a long term resident of Brussels, has more than 30 years international business experience in public affairs and corporate communications, and is a regular contributor to EU Today.

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