Tillbaka Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on 2012 visit to Bulgaria

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) today published the report on its visit to Bulgaria in May 2012, and the response of the Bulgarian authorities. During the visit, the CPT’s delegation reviewed the treatment and conditions of detention of inmates in Burgas and Varna Prisons.

Overcrowding remains a major problem in the Bulgarian penitentiary system, and disturbing levels of overcrowding were observed in both prisons visited. The report urges the authorities to redouble their efforts to counter this problem and to be guided in this respect by the relevant Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. More generally, the material conditions at Burgas and Varna Prisons were not acceptable. In their response, the Bulgarian authorities draw attention to a Government-adopted "Agenda for the improvement of the conditions in the penitentiary establishments for the period 2011-2013" and point out that some establishments, including Burgas and Varna Prisons, would undergo partial or full refurbishment. However, they also underline that a lack of financial resources is hampering efforts in this respect.

At Burgas Prison, the delegation heard many allegations of frequent physical ill-treatment by staff and, in several cases, recent bruises and abrasions consistent with allegations of ill-treatment were observed. In one case, CCTV footage viewed by the delegation confirmed allegations of assault of an inmate by a prison officer. In their response, the Bulgarian authorities inform the CPT that following investigations carried out into that case as well as other serious matters identified by the delegation, two staff members including the prison Director had been dismissed. Further, an action plan had been drawn up including the carrying out of a comprehensive review of the overall functioning of Burgas Prison and an assessment of the weaknesses in the management of the prison as well as of the treatment and problems encountered by the inmate population.

At both prisons visited, the delegation received a very large number of allegations of corrupt practices by prison staff. In its report, the CPT calls for decisive action to combat the phenomenon of corruption in the prison system and recommends that an inquiry be conducted into the allegations received at Burgas and Varna Prisons. In their response, the Bulgarian authorities refer to the adoption of a Strategy for the Prevention of Corruption in the prison system at central and local levels. As regards more specifically Burgas Prison, two cases of corruption had been established and resulted in dismissals, and a third case was currently under investigation.

The provision of health-care was very problematic at Burgas and Varna Prisons, due to an extreme shortage of staff and resources. The poor staffing levels in the two establishments rendered virtually impossible the provision of health care worthy of the name. The CPT has called for a considerable reinforcement of the health-care teams at both prisons. The Committee also recommends that the Ministry of Health become more involved in supervising the standard of care in places of deprivation of liberty (including as regards recruitment of health-care staff, their in-service training, evaluation of clinical practice, certification and inspection). The Bulgarian authorities indicate in their response that a procedure is underway to fill the vacant post of doctor at Burgas Prison

As regards life-sentenced prisoners, the CPT welcomes the efforts made at both of the prisons visited to integrate some of the lifers into the mainstream inmate population. However, it regrets that no progress had been made as regards the removal from the Criminal Code of the sentence of "life imprisonment without the right to substitution" (i.e. without possibility of parole). The Committee expresses the view that it is inhuman to imprison a person for life without any realistic hope of release.

The CPT’s visit report and the response of the Bulgarian Government, which have been made public at the request of the Bulgarian authorities, are available in English on the CPT’s website: http://www.cpt.coe.int.

These documents are also available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice's website: http://www.justice.government.bg

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