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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Monitoring the Reform of the Prison System - 2014 > Prison Reform Monitoring in 2014




Prison Reform Monitoring in 2014

December 25, 2014


In 2014 the Helsinki Committee continued monitoring Serbia’s prison reform and scrutinizing the situation of penal/prison institutions. The six-month project “Prison Reform Monitoring Continues” was implemented with the assistance of Civil Rights Defenders. In the second half of 2014 the organization’s team made fact-finding tours of six penal institutions under the jurisdiction of the Central Prison Administration of the Ministry of Justice: five missions to prisons (in Niš, Sremska Mitrovica, Zabela, Požarevac and Valjevo) one to the Special Prison Hospital in Belgrade, as well as monitored the functioning of the newly established alternative sanctions offices in Niš, Sremska Mitrovica, Belgrade, Požarevac and Valjevo.

A detailed report on the team’s findings – including the first independent report on the functioning of alternative sanctions offices – will be publicized by the end of January 2015.

The team’s basic observations are summarized in the paragraphs below.


Valjevo Reformatory and Alternative Sanctions Office

(December 2-3, 2014)


At the time of the team’s monitoring the prison kitchen, mess hall and one wing were under reconstruction. Reconstruction of the Reformatory seriously damaged in the May 2014 floods is financed by the government of the Kingdom of Norway. The floods had brought down both bridges providing access to the Reformatory. So far only one of them had been repaired for free movement of vehicles and people, while the other leading to the detention ward is not operable yet. All the detainees had been transferred to the Central Prison in Belgrade in May 2014.

The team found 260 prisoners under sentence on the premises. None of them were juvenile offenders. Out of all younger adults under sentence 14 were punished with juvenile prison. Out of total number of prison population as much as 50 percent were recidivists.

In 2014 the prison management took 342 disciplinary measures against prisoners – a rather big number when compared with total prison population. Prisoners were usually punished with solitary confinement, conditional confinement and ban on getting family packages. In 2014 prisoners were punished with total 964 days in solitary confinement.

Only one probation officers works full time in the local Alternative Sanctions Office. Another one works for the Reformatory and is engaged in the Office three days a week. The two probation offers supervise 125 persons punished with alternative sanctions – out of this number, 80 are punished with home confinement and 36 with monitored detention with community work.


The Niš Penitentiary and Alternative Sanctions Office

(September 29-30, 2014)


The team observed some changes made in the prison since its last visit, including better accommodation capacity. Some pavilions that had been in extremely bad shape were reconstructed. Now the prisoners in these pavilions have their dormitories freshly painted, with new floors, windows and bed, and have access to renovated toilets. Prisoners themselves have painted the interior of the newly built church. Yet another pavilion is under reconstruction.

Although the prison management did its best to improve conditions of prisoners’ lives, the institutions is still plagued by many problems: the number of security officers was reduced, the number of educators is inadequate, the same as capacities for prisoners working engagement and training, too many disciplinary measures are being taken against prisoners, etc. Too many prisoners in the closed unit (1,256 on the day of the visit) overstrain the prison staff to the detriment of adequate organizational arrangement and prisoners’ rights.

Although the newly introduced institute of prosecutorial investigation reduced the number of detainees, as many as 95 prisoners awaiting trial were in detention on the day of the team’s visit.

The inspected records show that one third of prisoners are persons with mental disabilities or drug addicts: 41 are with mental disabilities or psychiatric problems, 308 are drug addicts and 84 alcoholics.

The Niš Alternative Sanctions Office has been working for almost a year. The team takes it should be more independent to function better, and better staffed with qualified probation officers engaged on full-time basis.


The Sremska Mitrovica Penitentiary and Alternative Sanctions Office

(October16-17, 2014)


The state invested very little in the prison over the past year. Many pavilions and premises are still far from being fit to humane imprisonment.

The prison is still overcrowded: the team found 2,048 prisoners on its premises whereas the prison can accommodate maximum 1,300 persons. The institution is still under big pressure from newcomers – for instance, the team found 129 persons in the admission department with accommodation capacity of 96. Many of newly admitted prisoners are kept in the department for more than 30 days – as provided under the law – waiting for a “vacancy.” As many as 89 prisoners are awaiting trial.

The number of security officers is inadequate. Social rehabilitation groups are too big to be efficient. Few educators cannot meet the needs of 70 percent of prisoners serving their sentence in the closed ward.

The local Alternative Sanctions Office was opened about a year ago. Only one probation officer is engaged on full-time basis, while his three colleagues from the Sremska Mitrovica Penitentiary are engaged on contractual basis. At the time of the team’s visit the Office was in charge of 68 persons under sentence.


Women’s Prison in Požarevac

(November 19, 2014)


Accommodation capacities have been neither adapted nor reconstructed since 2013: the prison still waits the approval of its “big renovation project.” According to the planned project accommodation capacity should increase from 170 to 350. According to the prison manager, about 50 percent of prison population is recidivists (251 at present). Prison work is inadequate. The manager says that some 100 women are presently engaged in prison work (sewing, gardening, cleaning, etc.)

Women prisoners in the closed ward are not engaged in prison work. Out of 53 disciplinary measures taken in 2014 as many as 38 women prisoners were punished with solitary confinement.

The number of officers in all services is constantly on the downward curve.


The Zabela Prison and Alternative Sanctions Office in Požarevac

(November 20, 2014)


Accommodation has been somewhat improved since 2013 (dormitories were whitewashed, bathrooms renovated in some pavilions and the like).

The number of prisoners grew from 1,459 to 1,584. Consequently, there are more prisoners allocated to the high-security ward: from 1,150 in 2013 to 1,261.

Prison work is inadequate – only 30 percent of total prison population is engaged in some occupational activity. According to the prison manager, prisoners are not motivated for work and there are not enough “workplaces.”

The detention unit is beyond the prison premises. It accommodates prisoners sentenced from misdemeanor, who are physically separated from prisoners awaiting trial. This year, says the prison manager, the number of detainees was dramatically reduced – from 100 to only 19. Living conditions have been improved in the past two years: dormitories were freshly painted and equipped with new beds and lockers. Prisoners awaiting trial are kept in the unit for four months on the average. However, some have been detained for more than a year now.

Only one probation officer is engaged on full-time basis in the Alternative Sanctions Office. Two other come from the Zabela Prison and work part-time. At the time of the team’s visit the probation officers was in charge of 44 persons under alternative sentence.



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