Public Defender Speaks of ‘Informal Governance’ in Penitentiary Facilities

Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria released a report on December 24 on the results of monitoring carried out at four penitentiary facilities, according to which “informal governance in these facilities” creates a serious threat of inmate ill-treatment.

The report was prepared on the basis of the monitoring conducted by the Special Preventive Group of the Public Defender of Georgia in penitentiary establishments N2 (Kutaisi), N8 (Tbilisi, Gldani district), N14 (Mtskheta, Ksani settlement) and N15 (Tskaltubo, village of Geguti) in July and August 2019. Over 60% of all Georgian inmates are serving their sentences in the above mentioned four penitentiary facilities.

According to the official statistical data, as of October 2019, 8,075 inmates were serving their sentences in 15 penitentiary facilities under the Georgian Justice Ministry. According to the data for October, number of inmates placed in prison N15 exceeded the admitted norm by 39%.

Informal governance

According to the Public Defender’s report, “mainly informal rulers are ensuring order” in the penitentiary establishments, especially in semi-open facilities. The document notes that “the scales of informal governance are gradually increasing amid the persisting problem of proper management of penitentiary facilities” and that “an imaginary order existing in the facilities is the result of violent methods.”

The document also notes that inmates are informally divided into privileged and non-privileged prisoners through “the influence of criminal subculture,” allowing privileged prisoners to impose control over other inmates.

The report also notes frequent conflicts between inmates mainly on household issues. The Georgian Public Defender explained that conflict situations are mostly resolved on the ground and frequently the information about persisting problems does not reach the prison administration.

According to the report, besides physical violence, the cases of “grave psychological violence” are also observed in the penitentiary facilities.

The document also reads that prisoners are not aware of their rights and refuse to exercise their right to complain largely under the influence of criminal subculture and fearing of repressions.

Other problems revealed in the prison system

The Georgian Public Defender said that prisons N2 and N15 are overcrowded that along with lack of personnel, prompts prison administration to hand over the functions of conflict resolution and maintaining order to informal rulers.

Lomjaria also noted that “due to the lack of psycho-social support services or other resources of management of situations, the administration places a prisoner with mental health problems in the de-escalation room for a long time.” The Public Defender stressed that “the prolonged placement of prisoners in the de-escalation room and the failure to provide appropriate psychiatric care violate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

“It is unfortunate that the relevant authorities do not effectively detect or document alleged ill-treatment. In particular, doctors do not identify a possible link between an injury and torture or ill-treatment,” the report reads.

“In terms of penitentiary health care, the number and qualifications of medical staff, proper medical documentation, medical confidentiality, timely medical referral and preventive health care remain problematic. In addition, the lack of staff makes it difficult to provide quality psychiatric care,” the document says.

In a separate statement released along with the report, the Georgian Public Defender welcomes the fact that the Special Penitentiary Service expressed its opinion on the assessments made in the report before the publication of the report.

“The Special Penitentiary Service agrees with the recommendations of the Public Defender to some extent and aims to transform the larger penitentiary institutions into relatively small ones in order to improve the situation there,” the Public Defender said.

“The Public Defender welcomes the idea of ​​transforming institutions, if their goal is to develop a human rights-based system focused on positive changes in the behavior of convicts, their rehabilitation and thus their reintegration into society,” she added.

Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria spoke about the problems of informal governance in the penitentiary facilities at a press conference on December 10, saying that a detailed report on the problem would be released in the near future.

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