Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.
Physical Conditions: In 2012 there were 6,599 persons in prison or detention centers (authorities remanded 31 percent for custody, 50 percent for convicted crimes, 6 percent in accordance with the federal law on foreigners, and approximately 3 percent for other reasons). Of the total 323 were women (5 percent), 53 were juveniles (1 percent) and 4,870 (74 percent) were foreigners. In 2012 there were 2,051 persons in pretrial detention and 427 awaiting deportation, 5 percent of whom were women.
According to Federal Department of Justice and Police statistics, 30 individuals under the age of 18 were in preventive detention in 2012; 89 percent of those in custody were boys and 11 percent were girls.
The occupancy rate of detention facilities was 95 percent in 2012; prison overcrowding continued to be a problem especially in the French-speaking part of the country. Geneva’s Champ-Dollon Prison remained the country’s most crowded prison. Designed for a maximum of 376 occupants, it held 671 inmates during a 2012 NCPT inspection. According to independent observers, both guards and inmates criticized the poor detention conditions.
When the occupancy rate passed 800 inmates in April, 170 prison guards went on strike to protest the poor detention conditions, which led to the assignment of an additional 85 prison guards there. After a series of complaints about insufficient space at the prison, several prisoners filed for compensation at a Geneva district court. The judge denied the compensation claims, arguing that the space available complied with the standards outlined in the European Convention of Human Rights. In Lausanne prisoners were forced to spend parts of their sentences in small cells at police stations and makeshift wards because of insufficient space.
While conditions for female prisoners generally were comparable to those for men, there were exceptions. In April the NCPT visited the central prison in Schaffhausen and complained that female inmates were too isolated. Additional problems included a lack of sufficient space for prisoners in some of the older blocks.
All prisoners had access to potable water, but some facilities lacked work and sport facilities as well as outdoor areas.
As of November the Federal Office for Statistics had not released the number of deaths in confinement for 2012 or during the year; however, press sources and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported at least two suicides and two attempted suicides during the year. On April 17, a 32-year-old prisoner died in the Zug Cantonal Hospital after refusing food for several months.
The NCPT visited 10 prisons and asylum reception centers in 2012 and six during the first half of the year. While the commission found overall conditions at the inspected institutions satisfactory, it reported some prisons were under resourced, overcrowded, and lacked properly trained medical personnel. It also found that asylum seekers suffered under excessively restrictive conditions while awaiting repatriation and prison personnel lacked sufficient medical training. The committee criticized the Basel Asylum Reception Center for overcrowding and air quality issues. Originally built to hold 320, at times it held more than 485 individuals and as many as 12 individuals in one room. The commission found the overall detention conditions at Champ Dollon Prison in Geneva and the administrative detention conditions for asylum seekers at Martigny Prison “unsatisfactory.” The commission noted inmates at Martigny Prison spent 23 hours per day in their cells, and cited a negligible difference between detention conditions for asylum seekers and convicted felons at Martigny Prison. The committee further criticized the unregulated use of a monitoring cell in the Thorberg prison and lengthy periods of isolation for female inmates of the prison in Schaffhausen.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Prisons created a “detention schedule” for each detainee and defined aims and interim goals for their time in prison. Authorities updated these detention schedules at regular intervals. Prisons also kept medical records of detainees. Prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe and practice their respective religions. Alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders such as fines and charitable work were used. Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request an investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. Authorities investigated such allegations. There was no ombudsman at the national level, but a number of cantons instituted cantonal ombudsmen and mediation bodies, which acted on behalf of prisoners and detainees to address complaints about the conditions and circumstances of their detention. Entities able to address prisoner complaints were more readily available in the larger, more populous cantons than in smaller, less populated ones.
The penal code states police may detain young offenders only for a minimal period but does not explicitly state the length. In actuality, without an arraignment or arrest warrant, police could detain young offenders for a maximum of 24 hours (48 hours during weekends). Sentences for youths up to the age of 15 could be no longer than one year. For offenders 16 or older, sentences could be up to four years. The law also requires authorities to house juvenile offenders in reform schools or in separate wings of prisons where they could receive educational support. In 2012 authorities detained 399 youths; another 528 received suspended sentences.
In March 2012 the Zurich cantonal government reported that construction of the juvenile wing at Uitikon Prison would not be completed during the year as planned. Cantonal officials said the construction fell short of the required standards, thereby postponing the opening of the new wing. During the year juveniles continued to be housed in the old ward.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and asylum reception center conditions by local and international human rights groups, the media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The CPT last visited the country in 2011.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, which the cantons primarily organized and administered with federal coordination. In addition to performing coordination and analytical functions, the Federal Office of Police could pursue its own investigations under the supervision of the attorney general in cases of organized crime, money laundering, and corruption. The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law police must apprehend criminal suspects based on warrants issued by a duly authorized official unless responding to a specific and immediate danger. In most cases authorities may not hold suspects longer than 24 hours before bringing them before a prosecutor or investigating magistrate, who must either formally charge or order a detainee’s release. Immigration authorities may detain asylum seekers and other foreigners without valid documents up to 96 hours without an arrest warrant. There is a functioning bail system, and courts granted release on personal recognizance or bail unless the magistrate believed the person charged to be dangerous or a flight risk. A suspect may be denied legal counsel at the time of detention or initial questioning but has the right to choose and contact an attorney before charges are brought. The state provides free legal assistance for indigents charged with crimes for which imprisonment would be a possible punishment. Authorities may restrict access to family members to prevent tampering with evidence, but authorities require law enforcement officials to inform close relatives promptly of the detention.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were occasional reports of arbitrary arrest. On July 10, the country’s federal court sentenced a high-ranking Zurich city police officer for abuse of authority and arbitrary arrest to a suspended sentence and a fine of 6,600 Swiss francs ($7,300). This final in a series of related sentences stemmed from a 2007 incident in which police arrested and later injured a clergyman for intervening when police questioned a man on a Zurich street.
Pretrial Detention: In some instances lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. In 2012 approximately 31 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The country’s highest court ruled that pretrial detention must not exceed the length of the expected sentence for the crime for which a suspect is charged.
Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: According to the NCPT, measures against asylum seekers awaiting repatriation were too restrictive. The NCPT specifically noted that the transit center at the Geneva airport resembled a prison more than an asylum facility. The NCPT reported that other detention facilities lacked sufficient space and did not have the capacity to provide specific care requirements, particularly for pregnant women or parents of young children.