Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards. The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. The government acknowledged the problems and took some steps to remedy them.
Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice reported that it held 6,117 persons in the country’s 12 prisons and detention centers. Of these detainees 1,921 awaited trial or the outcome of appeals; 4,196 were convicted inmates. Detainees and convicts were sometimes held together.
The prison population included 45 juvenile males. Authorities held them at a separate juvenile facility in Cesis, which had a state-funded school and a capacity of 174 inmates.
The prison population included 417 women held in a separate prison with a capacity of 385. The country’s two juvenile female prisoners were held in a separate wing of the women’s prison. The Ombudsman’s Office and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered the physical conditions and the management at the women’s prison to be better than those for men.
During the year the Ombudsman’s Office received 68 prison-related complaints, compared with 164 in 2011. The Justice Ministry received 579 complaints from prisoners as compared with 873 in 2011. The complaints concerned living conditions, access to health care, and human rights violations.
The state police received 18 complaints about conditions in short-term detention facilities. They dealt with lack of privacy in living spaces and bathrooms, severely dilapidated physical plants, lack of heat and hot water, inadequate sanitary facilities, inadequate work and educational opportunities, and poor access to open space and fresh air. Prisoners generally had access to potable water. Health care services for inmates remained inadequate. Fire safety risks in prisons were also a concern, although prison authorities maintained that fire safety regulations were adequate. Most complaints from the country filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dealt with conditions in prisons and police detention cells.
During the year prison authorities opened 24 investigations into prisoner deaths. Fourteen deaths were due to disease or natural causes. Of the remaining 10, seven were ruled suicides, three of which were drug overdoses. Sixteen cases were closed due to lack of evidence. All seven suicide investigations initiated in 2011 were closed; all confirmed suicide was the cause of death. Investigations into eight deaths continued at year’s end.
During the year NGOs reported that one cause of prisoner suicide was a shortage of psychologists. For example, in Daugavgrivas prison there was one psychologist for almost 2,000 inmates. On June 21, a prisoner at Daugavgrivas was found dead in solitary confinement. Authorities determined the cause of death was suicide; however, the prisoner’s family and an NGO disputed the finding. A subsequent investigation affirmed the original finding that the death was a suicide, and the case was closed by the end of the year.
There were no developments in the ongoing investigation of a detainee who committed suicide in March 2011 while in solitary confinement at a state police regional detention facility in Riga. Two officers who detained the man were suspected of criminal negligence.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was generally adequate. During the year the prison administration completed work on a project to establish a centralized database of all inmates. Authorities used alternative sentencing measures, including reduced sentences and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders, and prisoners had reasonable access to visitors. Prisoners and detainees were allowed to observe religious practices and keep religious articles in cells and dormitory rooms.
Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. The authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of investigations in a publicly accessible manner, although some NGOs alleged that complaints were not reviewed in a timely 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 must be submitted in the Latvian language. In March prison authorities began offering Latvian language instruction at no cost to jailed foreign nationals. There were 38 foreigners in prison.
Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers in accordance with their standard modalities. A delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited the country in September 2011. The CPT report was not published by year’s end.
Improvements: Although NGOs acknowledged that the government made some improvements to conditions in prisons and other detention facilities during the year, they asserted that the worst conditions were not remedied. On January 1, new regulations came into effect that expanded health services available to inmates.