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Project “Prison Reform and Forensic Psychiatry”



The Helsinki Committee has been implementing the project named “Prison Reform and Forensic Psychiatry” thanks to the assistance of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Belgrade.

The project team has paid fact-finding missions to the institutions catering for prisoners sentenced with mandatory psychiatric treatment so as to, for the first time in Serbia, access the situation of forensic departments, general healthcare provided to persons deprived of their liberty, their psychiatric treatment and care, and psycho-social rehabilitation programs, as well as to obtain insight into legal status of forensic patients and the exercise of their rights.

The monitoring has been conducted in cooperation with the Ministry of Healthcare and institutional managements, and the Ministry of Justice, more precisely the Central Prison Administration. The team in one-day visits to the said institutions included the Committee’s lawyers, Jelena Mirkov and Ljiljana Palibrk, and experts – Professor Vladimir Jovic, psychiatrist, and Professor Djordje Alempejevic, forensic pathologist.

The team toured the Special Prison Hospital in Belgrade, and special psychiatric hospitals in Gornja Toponica, Vrsac and Novi Knezevac.

Special Prison Hospital in Belgrade is among the institutions catering for persons under one of the three legally defined security measures – the measure of mandatory psychiatric treatment, and mandatory treatments for alcoholism and drug abuse. Under the Penal Code, the Hospital is the priority institution accommodating prisoners under security measures. The law provides that such person may be allocated to some other institution as well – in Serbia, this includes the institutions in Vrsac, Gornja Toponica and Novi Knezevac, though not specified in any of the law’s provisions.

The Hospital accommodates not only prisoners punished for crime and under security measures, but also persons punished with misdemeanor under security measures, prisoners awaiting trial under psychiatric observation, and detainees diagnosed with some psychiatric disorder. In other words, though prioritized under the Penal Law, the Hospital is not a specialized institution for prisoners sentenced with the measure of obligatory psychiatric treatment. Though planned to accommodate 400 patients, the Hospital often has to cater for more than 500 persons. At the time of its visit the team found 458 patients on its premises. Out of this number, 300 patients are accommodated here throughout the duration of their sentence. According to institutional personnel, as many as 20 percent of them could be released immediately should social and probation systems be capable of ensuring them normal lives in the outside community and with community support. The information about many patients on welfare have to be kept in the institution for a lifetime is more than dramatic. The Hospital also accommodates juveniles despite the fact that it has no special department for them.

Special Psychiatric Hospital in Gornja Toponica caters for the same category of patients. Out of the total of 650 patients, are forensic patients. The same as in the Special Prison Hospital, about 20 percent of them could be released immediately could the system ensure them adequate living and treatment in the outside community. For its part, however, this hospital provides psychiatric treatment to as many as 80 patients punished with this mandatory measure. According to the statistics, 56 patients are sentenced for serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, rape or family violence.

Special Psychiatric Hospital in Vrsac accommodates forensic patients in several of its departments but also has a special forensic department. At the time of its visit the team found 103 patients on the premises. Many forensic patients are on welfare and no longer under the measure of obligatory psychiatric treatment: they stay in hospital for having nowhere else to go. The same as in other hospital catering for forensic patients, the latter are not categorized into either high-security, semi-open or open wards.

Special Psychiatric Hospital in Novi Knezevac does not have a separate forensic department but accommodates forensic patients nevertheless. They are allocated to three wards depending on their diagnoses. At the time of its visit the team found 21 forensic patients on the hospital premises. The hospital also provides outpatient treatment. The management has required annulment of mandatory treatment for 50 percent of its forensic patients. Only one case has been turned down by a relevant court of law.



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