Systemic Problems in Penitentiaries Remain Unsolved: Observation Group
Although there are some positive developments in recent years in solving the problems of people held in prisons, systemic problems remain in penitentiaries. They are overcrowded penitentiaries, the low quality of medical service provided to people in prison, their jail conditions, as well as non-statutory relations in penitentiaries. Such is the conclusion of the observation group, conducting public monitoring in penitentiary institutions and bodies of the Ministry of Justice.

This year from January 1 to June 26, the group of public monitoring made 57 visits to the penitentiaries, during which the work was carried out with 88 convicted persons.

“Most visits were based on  alarms, 57% of the visits were initiated to Nubarashen, Armavir, Abovyan, Vardashen penitentiaries, Prison Hospital of Yerevan Center, as well as Kosh and Sevan penitentiaries,” Ruben Sargsyan, Member of Observation Group, informed during the discussion on “Protection of Prisoners' Rights in Armenia: Sum-up of the First 6 Months of 2016” at Media Center.  

Most issues were related to medical service.

“There were also problems with the criminal case procedure, which is outside our mandate; the group is not engaged in this. Then, 6.7% of the problems refers to parole decisions made by the committee, the cases of self-injury and suicide comprised 4.8 %, the same was in case of hunger strikes, problems with food comprise 3.8%,” the speaker informed and added that the main portion of problems were about the medical care.  

Sergey Gabrielyan, Member of Observing Group, spoke about the issues of the vulnerable groups in the penitentiaries.

“The issues of the vulnerable groups remain very sharp in the penitentiaries,” he said and added, “They are the group of people that do not obey the criminal laws and the underworld representatives, people who have some health problems, the homosexuals, drug users or persons receiving methadone treatment,” he added.

Ara Gharagyozyan, Member of Observing Group, presented the incident that took place in Nubarashen penitentiary on June 12.   

“A blackjack was applied towards the prisoners of 00 jail, Tigran Yeganyan, Artur Hovhannisyan and Mushegh Mkhitaryan. According to the prison officials, they required cigarettes, and showed disobedience. When we met with detained persons, they claimed the opposite and showed the respective injuries. According to them, there is a person with a mental illness in their jail, and that day they were in need of medical assistance three times, they required but no doctor came. Therefore, they have shown disobedience. But they were taken to another room and beaten with a truncheon,” the speaker said.

Four days after the incident a medical examination was appointed. “We noticed it when studying the documents. The injuries of two of them were not fixed at all,” Gharagyozyan said and added that beating detainees reported to the Special Investigation Service and the Prosecutor's Office, but those reports "did not come out from the penitentiaries.”   

“We ourselves submitted reports about the crimes as their defenders,” he said.

Member of Observing Group, Advocate Robert Revazyan said that the number one issues is interpersonal, non-statutory relations.   

“Instead of laws and regulations unwritten criminal laws prevail in the penitentiaries. This leads to a situation in which there are very few complaints by prisoners,” he said.  

Revazyan thinks that if the prisoners submit many complaints, they are depressed by the criminal world easily. "There is a situation that is beneficial both for the criminal underworld representatives who are building hierarchical relationships within the penitentiaries and for the leadership of the penitentiaries, because it is easy to control the situation in that way," the lawyer said who said that "revolutionary solutions” are necessary for solving systemic problems and changing the situation in the penitentiaries."

“It is necessary to manifest a will on state level to solve those issues,” he said.

There is very often a cooperation between the criminal and penitentiary personnel.

“Penitentiary personnel say that it is easy to control the situation in that way. There are also great corruption flows in the penitentiaries,” he said.

Public Monitoring Group Chairman Mr. Zalyan noted that in recent years some problems have been resolved.

"Systematic problems were not solved. We all know that every year there are cases of deaths in penitentiary institutions, some of which suicides constitute, most of the cases are of diseases, "he said.

In this context, Zalyan brought the case of Hrachya Gevorgyan as an example who is confined to a wheelchair and is still at the Nubarashen penitentiary.

"A person is confined to a wheelchair and there are no appropriate conditions in the jail so that he could use the restroom. Sanitary and hygienic conditions are not provided. If we consider it within the scope of Article 3 of the Convention, it is torture to the person," Mr. Zalyan said.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”

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