Conditions in some of the country’s 12 prisons and detention centers remained poor, and most did not meet international standards. The government acknowledged these problems and took some steps during the year to remedy them. The government permitted monitoring visits by the ombudsman and other independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred. During the year the government adopted alternative sentencing measures (including reduced sentences and rehabilitation programs) for nonviolent offenders.
Prison authorities opened 13 investigations into cases of violent deaths of prison inmates. In five of these cases investigators found that the victims committed suicide. Investigations in the other eight cases continued at year’s end.
On March 28, an inmate committed suicide while in solitary confinement at the state police regional detention facility in Riga. An investigation into criminal negligence by police officers who detained the man continued at year’s end.
During the year the ombudsman’s office received 164 complaints and the state police seven complaints about poor conditions in prisons and other detention facilities, compared with 67 complaints to the ombudsman’s office in 2010. Complaints included inadequate privacy in living spaces and bathrooms, severely dilapidated physical plants, lack of heat, inadequate sanitary facilities and places to sit, lack of hot water, insufficient work and educational opportunities, and inadequate access to open space and fresh air. Prisoners generally had access to potable water. Health care services for inmates, which are managed by the Prison Administration, were not adequate. During the year the ombudsman delivered several memoranda to the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Administration noting that inmates’ living conditions in various detention facilities did not meet international standards and charging that the government did not implement the ombudsman’s recommendations. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) argued the ombudsman’s office was not aggressive enough in this area.
On July 19, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published the report of a follow-up visit to the country in 2009. In the Jekabpils Prison, where the delegation had found serious problems in 2007, the CPT found improvements. However, the delegation did receive some allegations of continued physical mistreatment of prisoners by prison officers, including kicks, blows with truncheons, and other rough treatment mainly of prisoners held in Unit 3. The delegation also heard allegations of violence between prisoners at Jekabpils Prison. The admission cell, which held incoming prisoners usually for their first four days at the prison, also had limited access to natural light and ventilation. At Daugavgrivas Prison the delegation found the same improper conditions in the cells.
Observers expressed concern that corruption and a lack of professionalism in the Prison Administration contributed to problems in prisons and detention centers. The Ministry of Justice temporarily halted two projects begun in 2010 to improve management at state prisons, citing concerns over mismanagement. There were also allegations of mismanagement of the tender for renovation of the Cesis Juvenile Detention Center. Based on these and other concerns, the Ministry of Justice initiated disciplinary proceedings against Visvaldis Pukite, chief of the Prison Administration. The ministry concluded in November that Pukite was negligent in supervising various projects, reduced his salary by 20 percent for six months, and ordered him to address underlying accounting and management problems. It also imposed disciplinary fines on seven other Prison Administration officials.
At the end of the year the Ministry of Justice reported that 6,558 persons were held in the prison system, which had a total capacity of 7,970 persons. Of these, 2,033 were detainees awaiting trial or the outcome of their appeals, and 4,525 were convicted inmates. Detainees and convicted inmates occasionally were incarcerated together. Male prisoners were held in 10 prisons throughout the country.
The prison population included 63 juvenile males. Most of these prisoners were held at a separate juvenile facility in Cesis that was equipped with a school funded by the state. The capacity of the Cesis facility was 174. NGOs reported that a few juvenile males were held during the year in a separate area (not in the general population) at the Riga Central Prison, where they had access to state-funded education. At the end of the year 13 juveniles were held in regular adult detention facilities. Although the Ministry of Justice stated such cases were temporary and rare, the ombudsman’s office expressed concern that during pretrial detention some juveniles were held for long periods at these facilities, where they were isolated and had no access to education.
The prison population included 416 women held in a separate women’s prison with a capacity of 385. The country’s three juvenile female prisoners were held in a separate wing of the women’s prison. The ombudsman’s office and NGOs considered the physical conditions and management at the women’s prison to be better than at other facilities and generally adequate. Nevertheless, inmate complaints about the strict management style of the new director of the women’s prison led the Prison Administration to transfer the director to a different post.
In general prisoners had reasonable access to visitors. The Prison Administration allowed prisoners and detainees to observe religious practices with some limitations, including security-related restrictions on religious articles kept in cells and dorm rooms. In March the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a challenge against these restrictions by a group of prisoners, noting inconsistency between facilities in the application of these restrictions. The court ordered the government to revise these restrictions to reflect clear criteria related to safety and to ensure consistent application. At the end of the year the Ministry of Justice continued to work on revising these restrictions.
Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The ombudsman’s office monitored conditions at prisons and detention facilities. Ministry of Justice and other government officials investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Some NGOs, however, criticized the requirement that all prisoner complaints be submitted in the Latvian language.
Although NGOs acknowledged that the government made some improvements in conditions in prisons and other detention facilities, they agreed that the worst conditions remained unremedied. During the year the government allocated three million lats ($6 million) over three years to address specific prisoner complaints (e.g., broken windows and plumbing fixtures) at existing prison facilities. In June the government directed the Justice Ministry and the Health Ministry to ensure that inmates had access to Latvia’s state-funded medical system.
During the year the Ministry of Interior opened a new detention facility for undocumented aliens and asylum seekers in Daugavpils, replacing the seriously deficient Olaine facility. NGOs reported that the new Daugavpils facility met international standards.
During the year the Prison Administration completed work on the Cesis Juvenile Detention Facility, including a new building for pretrial detainees and renovation of the existing building for sentenced inmates. Although this project remedied problems with the physical conditions, observers continued to express concerns about the facility. The Children’s Rights Protection Agency, a government institution reporting to the Ministry of Welfare, highlighted numerous problems, including physical and emotional abuse by officials and an atmosphere that encouraged violence among inmates. In response, the Prison Administration transferred the director to another facility.
During the year the government began construction of a separate facility within the Olaine Prison for prisoners with special needs, including alcohol and drug addiction.
The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. The CPT visited prisons and detention facilities in September. As of year’s end, the CPT had not publicly released a report on its visit.