Prison Monitoring: Public observers note progress, point out problems at penal institutions in 2015

Human rights NGOs, estimating conditions at Penitentiary Institutions (PI) in 2015, say that there has been some progress, but there are still unresolved issues.

According to the estimations of Ruben Sargsyan, the head of a public monitoring group, which is carrying out observations at PIs, the biggest progress of the year is the opening of a new prison in the Armavir province.

“The positive trend is also open cooperation launched in mid-2014, which was adopted by the Justice Ministry and the Penitentiaries Department. But the problem of overcrowded penal institutions is still among the unresolved issues. The Nubarashen penitentiary is a vivid example of it, the building conditions of which are also worrisome,” Sargsyan says.

According to him, there are also problems with the quality of health care service, concerning which many complaints have been received from prisoners. Sargsyan says that it is also worrisome that in case of the presence of a disease incompatible with serving the sentence of a convict the order of exemption from punishment in accordance with the government decision is not carried out.

“The only case among prisoners serving life sentences was that of Soghomon Kocharyan, who, remaining in freedom for 14 days after being diagnosed with cancer, died,” Sargsyan says, adding that no lifer has ever come out of prison for health or other grounds so far, except for the case when the convict was to die soon.

Meanwhile, Hayk Kochinyan, the head of the Analytical and International Cooperation Department of the Penitentiary Department, not admitting the allegations concerning the poor quality of health care service, says that in 2015, 66,000 people have received outpatient treatment, while around 700 convicts got inpatient treatment.

“With regard to diseases incompatible with the sentence, I can say that as a result of it two convicts were set free in 2014, while in 2015 there were already 10 of them. There is a positive trend in lifers’ detention regimes, too. In 2014-2015 the regimes of 16 lifers were changed from close to semi-close,” says Kochinyan.

Robert Revazyan, a member of the public monitoring group, which conducts monitoring in Penitentiary Institutions, referring to lifers, says that although the law provides that a lifer becomes eligible for parole after serving 20 years, the actual mechanism is not working. Dozens of prisoners serving life sentences have already crossed the threshold of 20 years, but none of them have been set free.

“A person during 10 years must have passed at least from the closed to a semi-closed, then from the semi-close to a semi-open regime, and later to the open one. Some employment programs are being implemented, but they are very few and cannot cover all,” says Robert Revazyan.

Drug users and homosexuals are often subject to discriminatory treatment in prisons. Sergey Gabrielyan, a member of the monitoring group, says that they are allocated to specific cells and assigned to specific work (cleaning toilets). They have to use separate utensils and have no right to use the same cafeteria.

“As for cells, there are cells for eight convicts but six people stay there, whereas in those which are for 12 people, 16 prisoners live. We do not know how these cells are distributed. A cell is repaired by European standards, while others are of poor quality:
knobs and lights do not work. Toilets are in bad condition,” says Gabrielyan.