Although improving, prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.
Physical Conditions: The Prison Administration reported that authorities held 4,963 persons in the country’s 11 prisons and detention centers, including 1,433 detainees awaiting trial or the outcome of an appeal. The designed capacity of these facilities was 7,970. The law calls for the isolation of detainees from convicts, and the government enforced this provision.
The prison population included 40 juvenile males held at a separate juvenile facility that included a state-funded school and 360 women held in a separate prison. Authorities placed two juvenile female prisoners in a separate wing of the women’s prison. The ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered the physical conditions at the women’s prison to be better than at other facilities.
In September 2013 the Prison Administration established a task force, staffed by Ministry of Justice personnel, to evaluate conditions at each of the prisons, prepare a five-year strategy paper on the mission and objectives of the administration, and develop a more efficient mechanism to respond to the 5,000 complaints inmates submit to the administration each year. Preliminary findings of the task force identified inadequate health-care services, poor infrastructure, and insufficient living space. Some inmates were living in spaces of 27 square feet or less, as opposed to the 43 square feet stipulated in EU regulations. Prisoners generally had access to potable water. Food was adequate.
Four suicides (by hanging) occurred in prisons from January through mid-November. The circumstances of three of these cases remained under investigation as of mid-November. Authorities closed the fourth due to the lack of a crime.
The ombudsman received 46 complaints about prison conditions during the first six months of the year, compared with 97 during all of 2013. Twelve of the 2014 “complaints” were requests for information about results of earlier monitoring activities. The Justice Ministry received 48 complaints about prison conditions during the first eight months of the year, compared with 250 in 2013. Complaints concerned general living conditions, access to health care, and human rights abuses.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was satisfactory; administrators employed a central database of inmates established in 2012. Authorities employed sentencing alternatives, including reduced sentences and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders, to minimize the prison population. Prisoners had reasonable access to visitors. Some NGOs characterized the use of a glass wall to separate prison visitors from inmates, which is not mandatory, as a violation of inmates’ right to privacy. Latvian Islamic Cultural Center representatives reported that Muslim prisoners’ access to prayer rugs and halal food was limited. Otherwise authorities allowed prisoners reasonable access to religious observance.
Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of investigations in a publicly accessible manner, although some NGOs alleged that prison officials did not review complaints in a timely manner.
The ombudsman monitored conditions in prisons and detention facilities. During the first six months of the year, the ombudsman made seven visits to prisons, monitoring overall conditions, resocialization programs, health care, security, and governance programs. The Ministry of Justice and other government offices investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.
Improvements: During the year the Prison Administration, under the Ministry of Justice, made concerted efforts to improve prison conditions. NGOs reported some improvements in prisons and other detention facilities. The Prison Administration provided programs designed to combat suicide and drug abuse. It restructured the health-care division.
The Prison Administration also addressed problems of foreign inmates, who numbered approximately 40. It created brochures for guards explaining how to treat foreign inmates, as well as brochures and an accompanying online tool to help foreign inmates understand basic terms in Latvian.
In July, following a recommendation from the Council of Europe, the government amended the law to introduce alternative sentencing, including electronic surveillance, to reduce the risk of overcrowding in prisons.