The country’s prisons and detention centers did not meet international standards; problems included overcrowding, violence between prisoners, violence by prison staff, dilapidated and unhygienic conditions, lack of educational and recreational opportunities for juveniles, and some reports of sexual abuse of female prisoners.
Physical Conditions: The country had 11 prisons and two juvenile correctional institutions. Of the 11 prisons, two were high-security prisons, Idrizovo in Skopje and the prison in Stip. Six of these prisons also housed pretrial detainees in separate detention wards. Men and women were held separately in both the prisons and the detention facilities. At year’s end there were 2,238 prisoners, 21 juveniles, and an additional 407 detainees. Prisons were designed to house 1,825 prisoners, 44 juveniles, and 421 detainees.
The CPT report stated that fundamental change was required to address challenges facing the prison system. The lack of a professional management approach, low staffing/prisoner ratios, and an absence of accountability and clear rules were particular problems. At Idrizovo Prison, the country’s largest prison facility, the CPT received a number of credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by staff, and violence between prisoners remained a significant problem. Many inmates were held in deplorable living conditions, crowded in a dilapidated, dangerous, and unhygienic environment, while most prisoners were offered no recreational activities and locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. Additionally, the CPT reported its impression that the prison was being run on the basis of collusion between staff and convicted inmates.
In the remand sections of the Skopje and Tetovo Prisons, detainees had no organized activities and less than one hour of daily outdoor exercise, if any. The CPT report also detailed the overcrowding and poor conditions for remand prisoners. The report particularly criticized the treatment of juveniles held in remand and recommended taking action to offer them educational and recreational activities and to ensure that they were never held in the equivalent of solitary confinement.
National authorities stated they were taking measures to improve detention conditions in the prisons, particularly at Idrizovo Prison, with the support of a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank. The prison’s policies provided all prisoners with a range of activities as well as the legally required two hours of daily outdoor exercise.
During the year the Ministry of Justice refurbished the old detention unit in the Suto Orizari Detention Center, equipped the fitness room, repaired the plumbing and sewage infrastructure, and designated two rooms for confidential meetings of detainees and their defense counsels.
Administration: The Ministry of Interior conducted inspections of the registers of detained persons and prepared standard procedures for their detention and treatment. These procedures included designating shift supervisors who were responsible for the proper processing and treatment of detained persons. Recordkeeping at prisons was considered adequate. Authorities used alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders, including fines, suspended sentences, minimum-security prisons, and house arrest. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints; however, some complainants were subjected to political pressure. The ombudsman was allowed to visit prisons and investigated all credible allegations of inhumane conditions.
In March the media reported that wardens in the Stip prison allowed inmates serving 10-year sentences for terrorism to take home leave in violation of prison regulations. The Director of the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Administration stated that, due to inadequate understanding of the pertinent rules, the prison staff mistakenly categorized the inmates as “low risk.” In August a group of female inmates accused the Idrizovo prison administration of sexual abuse. Inmates housed at the Idrizovo prison continued to complain about lack of adequate medical care.
A survey of correctional personnel at the Idrizovo State Prison and the Suto Orizari Detention Center in Skopje by the Ministry of Justice’s Sanctions Enforcement Administration indicated that more than half of the personnel possessed few or no professional skills or knowledge of relevant laws. The primary prison employees’ union complained of inadequate equipment and training and severe understaffing.
The government usually granted the ombudsman access to convicted prisoners. The ombudsman regularly visited the country’s prisons and maintained complaint boxes in each of the facilities. The ombudsman stated that the right to express religious beliefs and practice religious rites in the penitentiary and correctional facilities was not hindered. Visitors’ access was allowed.
Monitoring: The law allows family members, physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the CPT and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. The government usually granted independent humanitarian organizations access to convicted prisoners. However, during the year the local branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee claimed that the government denied its representatives access to prisoners.
In its October progress report, the European Commission reported that conditions in the Tetovo Juvenile Correctional and Rehabilitation Institute and the closed ward of Idrizovo continued to raise serious concerns. The report noted that most of the prisons continued to be underfunded and could not cover their basic maintenance expenses and that the mechanisms for preventing and combating mistreatment and corruption in prisons remained weak.
Improvements: The European Commission reported that the government adopted an annual program for the construction and renovation of prisons. The government renovated parts of the prisons where degrading conditions were reported, particularly in the Idrizovo Prison and its semiopen ward.