Following the publication of Public Defender’s special report on informal governance and criminal subculture in prisons, it has become not only more difficult but also dangerous for representatives of the Public Defender's Office to carry out visits and monitoring in penitentiary establishments, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said.
According to her, in recent months, a certain group of prisoners managed by the administration of the establishments and the so-called ‘prison watchers’ have been systematically carrying out verbal attacks, threats and aggression against representatives of the Public Defender's Office.
“The purpose of these illegal actions was to hamper our communication with prisoners and monitoring of the prison area. Similar cases occurred:
On October 31, 2020, and then again, on January 14, 2021, in Ksani Establishment No. 15, when a specific group of prisoners did not allow representatives of the Public Defender to observe the realization of the right to vote or to interview the doctor of the facility. This is particularly troubling in the light of the fact that one of the inmates of Establishment No. 15 died of complications of COVID-19 a few days ago and family members of several inmates asked us to visit inmates.
On December 4, 2020 and January 13, 2021, in Gldani Establishment No. 8, when one and the same prisoner threatened representatives of the Public Defender's Office and requested that they stop their visit. Establishment No. 8 is a closed facility and it is noteworthy that the above-mentioned prisoner always moves around a specific area of the prison when our representatives visit the facility.
On January 13, 2021, in Rustavi Establishment No. 17, when a specific group of prisoners behaved aggressively towards representatives of the Public Defender and requested that they stop the visit as "everything was fine" in prison.
As representatives of the Public Defender, during their visits to prisons, face real threats from “informal governors” supported by prison administrations, the Public Defender is considering the possibility of conducting preventive monitoring visits only under additional security measures, which would naturally impede the protection of prisoners' rights effectively. Naturally, the Office will continue to hold individual meetings with prisoners.
Even though about half of prisoners serve their sentences in semi-open facilities (Nos. 14, 15 and 17), unfortunately, the number of applications received from these facilities decreases year by year. Out of a total of 1 384 applications filed in 2020, only 57 were sent by inmates of the these three prisons. The above is the result of the influence of the so-called criminal subculture. As a result, a number of problems faced by prisoners unfortunately remain unheard. Even the general description of violations identified in other prisons by us illustrates the scale of problems encountered by prisoners on a daily basis, which is why it is important for us to work proactively in semi-open facilities:
We identify cases of alleged violence against prisoners and apply to the investigative agencies to conduct an effective investigation, and then we monitor the cases and the safety of the prisoners;
We assist prisoners in receiving medical services delayed for months or years;
We talk about the illegal and inhuman treatment of prisoners in de-escalation rooms for weeks, as well as the ill-treatment of prisoners with mental health problems;
We talk about shortcomings of the parole system, the inconsistency and non-substantiation of the decisions made by the commission, the terms calculated to the detriment of prisoners;
We help prisoners reach the relevant agencies, we identify cases when the facilities "lose" prisoners’ letters, we help prisoners get back the unjustly confiscated items;
We reveal illegal cases of the imposition of administrative fines, while the most vulnerable categories in the penitentiary system, who, for example, are afraid of being illtreated because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, are able to communicate with the outside world only through the visits of the Public Defender’s representatives.
Given all this, we call on:
The Government of Georgia to take immediate measures to change the model of managing the criminal subculture in prisons;
The Minister of Justice of Georgia to immediately raise the issue of liability of the Director General of the Penitentiary Service, as well as directors of the relevant penitentiary establishments;
The Parliament of Georgia to study the illegal model of management of semi-open establishments, by using parliamentary oversight mechanisms, in order to enable all prisoners to address the relevant agency or organization relating to their problems and rights violations;
The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to launch an investigation into the cases of obstruction and threats against the Public Defender, in connection with which a proposal has already been submitted to the Prosecutor's Office“, said Nino Lomjaria.
In addition to the above, the Public Defender will provide information to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to visit Georgia to protect the prisoners’ rights.
At the same time, the Public Defender addresses Georgia's international partner countries and donor organizations that provide financial assistance to the Special Penitentiary Service – “the management model in semi-open prisons is based on informal hierarchy of prisoners, where the so-called “prison watchers" provide fictitious order, which aims to silence prisoners and prevent them from talking about their problems. Given the scale of the influence of the criminal subculture, the involvement of the administration in this process and the human rights abuses, it is important that the donor support be spent on substantially improving and rehabilitating this system rather than strengthening the existing vicious management model.”