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Prison conditions improving: Ombudsman

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, February 10
A special preventive group of the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) recently monitored two penitentiary facilities in Imereti, western Georgia. The group met with prisoners, employees, and medical personnel of Kutaisi # 2 and Geguti # 14 prisons.

The monitoring group was especially interested in how prisoners are treated at the Kutaisi facility, where the PDO observed rights violations during a previous visit. In August 2011, the office wrote about the significant deterioration of the situation there. Of the 1 451 inmates, 600 of them had reported “abuse and humiliating” treatment from the administration. As punishment, prisoners were regularly forced to spend between one and two hours kneeling with their hands behind their head.

The PDO encouraged the Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, “to immediately take appropriate measures to secure protection of prisoners' rights” and hold responsible any prison officials who mistreated inmates.

Although the responsibility of those individuals engaged in violations has yet to be raised, investigation of the case is under the way and Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi hoped it will be addressed by the government in a timely fashion. While meeting monitors from the ombudsman’s office, detainees still complain about improper conduct from staff members, who humiliate them for petty offences.

Prisoners have one hour per day for walks outside the prison, but the majority does not take part. They say that any words or actions that "annoy" staff result in all detainees being sent back to their cells. Though more violent corrective methods are no longer used, the PDO believes that such psychological punishment serves as replacement method for the administration to oppress detainees.

Prisoners have to rotate "on duty" in their cell, with the individual on duty taking responsibility for the state of the cell as well as the behaviour of its detainees. “Refusal to be on duty becomes a reason for humiliation or punishment,” says the report, welcoming the fact that prisoners are no longer sent to so-called "boxes" as a method of punishment.

However, the monitoring group highlighted that there was “awful frost” in a one-person cell while they surveyed the prison. Some detainees from the solitary cells complained while others denied any mistreatment.

The PDO also described how 23 detainees in quarantine had to stand with their hands on their heads three or four times a day, often for half an hour or more. If they do not get out of bed in time, the staff punishes them. “People in quarantine may not use the bathroom or go out for a walk; neither are they given linen or hygienic tools; they mainly use common dishes,” the report notes.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Geguti prison has improved between the two surveys. Inmates report that the warden pays them regular visits, talks to them, and tries to do his best to financially support them.