Bulgarian prisons boss fired for ‘lacking initiative’

Bulgarian Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva has fired prisons chief Dimitar Dimitrov for lacking initiative, she told a news conference.

Kovacheva said that he had been inactive and had proven unable to spend the 10 million leva (about five million euro) that had been allocated for repairs to prisons.

She said that in early 2013, special scanners would be installed in some of Bulgaria’s largest prisons. This would mean an end to one of the main problems in the country’s jails by preventing prohibited items being brought in, Kovacheva said.

A December 4 2012 report by a Council of Europe committee, released after visits to prisons in the Bulgarian Black Sea cities of Varna and Bourgas, said that overcrowding remained a major problem in the Bulgarian penitentiary system, and disturbing levels of overcrowding were observed in both prisons visited.

At Bourgas Prison, the delegation heard many allegations of frequent physical ill-treatment by staff and, in several cases, recent bruises and abrasions consistent with allegations of ill-treatment were observed, the report said.

At both prisons visited, the delegation received a very large number of allegations of corrupt practices by prison staff.

The provision of health care was very problematic at Bourgas and Varna prisons, because of an extreme shortage of staff and resources, according to the report.

The United States state department annual human rights report, released in May 2012, said that conditions in most prisons in Bulgaria were harsh with inadequate toilet facilities, heating, and ventilation. During 2011, there were 53 deaths in prisons and four deaths in pretrial detention centres. Prisoners had access to potable water. There were no reports of inadequate record keeping. There were no reports that conditions for women prisoners were worse than those for men. Most of the prison facilities dated from the early 1900s; the government built the newest facility in 1983.

Overcrowding remained a serious problem, especially in pretrial detention centres. As of October 2011 there were 9714 prisoners, including 89 juveniles and 301 women, in the country’s 13 prisons, which had a designed capacity of 8763 inmates.

The US state department report said that in Bourgas Prison, some of the inmates were forced to sleep on the floor for lack of sufficient bed space. The daily food allowance was approximately 3.20 levs ($2.14). NGOs received complaints about both the quality and quantity of food.

The prison administration received complaints from prisoners about sanctions imposed on them, the poor quality of medical services, living conditions, and mistreatment by prison guards. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) stated that performance reports throughout the year showed the administration’s training for prison guards was ineffective. Unfilled guard positions resulted in inadequate staffing and contributed to the poor execution of guard duties. Foreign prisoners serving longer terms were held in a separate prison in Sofia to provide them with easier access to consular services.

The prison administration estimated that 1300 prisoners, or more than 13 per cent of the prison population, were drug-dependent. Prison authorities experienced difficulties in limiting prisoner access to narcotics and diagnosing and treating the increasing number of drug-dependent inmates.

All prisoners have the right to work, and two days of work reduced the prison term by three days, the state department report said. In practice, the report said, the prison administration offered work to only a limited number of prisoners; work was generally less available due to the economic crisis. Prisoners alleged that the system for determining the type of work regime a prisoner received was corrupt and lacked oversight. Nonviolent offenders could be sentenced to probation, allowing them to stay out of prison as long as they met the conditions of their probation sentence.

Only one of the country’s 42 detention facilities met internationally established human rights standards. The government partially renovated a few other detention centres. As of October, 1326 persons were in detention, including 33 juveniles and 48 women. The total designed capacity of the centres was 1786 persons.

While prisoners in principle have the right to receive visitors, in most cases a lack of space to accommodate visitors in the facility made visits impossible. Prisoners of any faith could hold religious observances.

Prisoners reported substandard conditions to the prison administration, the national ombudsman, and the court system. During the year prisoners filed 854 complaints with the prison administration claiming improper sanctions, improper transfers to other facilities, substandard medical services, poor conditions, and abuse by prison guards. The prison administration found 717 of those complaints unfounded and dismissed 41 as outside the scope of its authority; it investigated the rest of the complaints and imposed sanctions.

In 2010 the National Assembly allocated 20 million leva during the three-year period to 2013 to improve living conditions and reduce overcrowding . During 2011, the prison administration spent 892 000 leva for various upgrades to existing facilities such as kitchen refurbishment, roof repair, and cell refurbishment.

(Photo: Miguel Saavedra/sxc.hu)




The Sofia Globe staff

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