Serbian Prisons are Overcrowded

Almost twice as many people are crammed in Serbian prisons as the buildings are designed for, Civil Rights Defenders and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia write in a new report. This leads to problems for both inmates and staff.

For three years now, we have monitored the situation of human rights in Serbia’s 26 prisons together with the Helsinki Committee in Serbia, HCHRS. One of the major shortcomings that we found in 2010 and 2011 is that the prisons are overcrowded. The purpose of our monitoring is to verify that the reforms of the prison system, which began after the prison riots in 2001, are actually realised. So far, the positive results have been few.

During a visit to the state prison in Novi Sad we found 620 detainees and convicted persons in a prison that is intended to accommodate 350 people. The prison system is designed for 6,500 inmates in total, but over 11 000 people are detained in Serbia.

The report describes the overcrowdness as a systemic problem which affects the quality of life for the detainees. It also makes it more difficult to help inmates with their reintegration into society after their release.

A field study conducted in Pozarevac Penitentiary-Reformatory for Women last summer shows that even in this institution the number of inmates are too many. Several problems in the women’s prison, including the ability to maintain personal hygiene, are related to overcrowding. In the IV pavilion 70 women are forced to share two toilets and two shower rooms.

More problems were also found in this institution. Elderly and sick women are treated in a degrading manner that constitute a serious violation of human rights and can be classified as torture. If an inmate feel too poorly to perform her mandatory work, which require a lot of movement, she must be given permission from the prison doctor. But if she is granted rest she must spend the whole day in bed, without exceptions.

One woman with back problems said that she forced herself to lie down even though it aggravates her pain. Would she be caught while walking around in her room she could be forced to return to the mandatory activities that she is unable to perform.

Read the whole report: HCS Monitoring of prisons.