When your destiny is not in the hands of the law, but in the hands of someone like “goodfella”
You must be an ungrateful person not to see the positive changes in the penitentiary system in recent years. But would not be the media a “watchdog” if not to bring the existing problems to daylight for the judgment. According to the principle of Great Ilia “scold your consanguine straight to the face” we need to achieve not to push the people who already oppressed by the difficulties of life and isolated from the rest of the society, to the wall.
Due to the pandemic caused by the novel Coronavirus, in many countries, part of the prisoners has been released. The President of Georgia pardoned only 9 convicts when the country still holds the record by the number of prisoners. On this background, the opposition believes that the government has a good space to release the political prisoners. The government denies the existence of such prisoners in the country.
At the same time, on March 30, the Minister of Justice shifted the employees of the penitentiary institutions under the “lockdown.” Tea Tsulukiani also called on the prisoners to “refrain from insulting the employees who at the present moment live there permanently.” If previously prisoners enjoyed 15 minutes of phone calls free of charge, this time has been increased up to 30 minutes.
On the other hand, from March 5th, in penitentiary institutions, special conditions were introduced. Remand prisoners and convicts have restricted from enjoying a long, short-term, and family visits; a short leave outside the prison facility; temporary leave of convicted persons from a prison facility in connection with special personal circumstances. .
Let us move on to the main point. Over the years, the Public Defender has emphasized that informal governance in prisons poses a serious threat to prisoners’ ill-treatment, which leads to violence and oppression.
According to a recent report of a Special Prevention Group, amid the problem of proper management of penitentiary institutions, the scale of informal governance is slowly increasing, which is thought-provoking and requires a timely response. The influence of the criminal subculture leads to the informal segregation of the prisoners. As a result, a certain proportion of prisoners who are in a privileged position through repressive methods carry out informal governance, which often leads to violence among prisoners and manifests itself in punitive measures against those prisoners who do not obey the rules of informal governance.
Specifically: The Special Preventive Group received the information that although the prisoners are in the cells for 23 hours, in the N2 penitentiary facility the representatives of the criminal subculture move around freely, control the prisoners, collect the funds for so-called “common treasury”, enter the cells and assaulting the disobedient prisoners; Those who do not comply with their demands are expelled from the general prison population and transferred to another building; Prisoners are deprived of the clothes sent to them by their family. The so-called prison “watchers”, with the help of the prisoners who are enrolled in upkeep and maintenance services, control the prisoners’ accounts. There are special logs, indicating the name and surname of the prisoner, the time of checking, and the amount of money on the prisoner’s payment card. Members of the Special Preventive Group found such a log in one of the buildings. The monitoring showed that in the N8 penitentiary facility there are privileged prisoners, who are assisted by the administration in repairing their cells, allows them to have various household items that are not approved for other prisoners; the administration considers their desire to share the cell with friends, helping them to timely get the medical care. According to a Special Preventive Group, such an effort of the administration to improve the conditions of prisoners is welcoming in case if such treatment would be extended to all prisoners, would be fair, and would not pose a threat of corruption and nepotism. Unfortunately, in the N8 penitentiary facility, the vast majority of inmates are not allowed to have the same opportunity to improve their detention conditions. According to certain prisoners, in the N8 penitentiary facility, there are convicts close to the administration who have some kind of influence over other prisoners, and if necessary, the administration uses them to “resolve the matter” with the inmates (in case of writing complaint of hunger strike, other forms of complaints, or during conflict situations).Most of the prisoners, as well as the employee of one of the penitentiary facilities, confirm that the “watchers” ensure the maintenance of order in the prison. During the interviews with the prisoners, the names, surnames, and nicknames of specific criminal authorities were mentioned.The group also received information that in the N14 and N15 penitentiary facilities, a representative of the criminal subculture visits the convict upon admission and hosts him with the coffee-tea, chocolate, and cigarettes. After moving into the building, where the convict is required to live, he is told that henceforth he would also have to contribute to help the newly arrived, impecunious convicts as he was helped. Thus, informal supervisors try their best to convince the convicts upon admission to take part in gathering so-called ”common treasury” and in its good intentions. The analysis of the obtained information reveals that in the N15 penitentiary facility: coffee and cigarettes, which is equivalent to the “membership” fee per cell, are handed over to informal supervisors. After that, the prisoners purchase the cigarettes not in the store, but from the “watchers.” Their relatives transfer a certain amount of money on the bank accounts controlled by the “watchers” or on the specially opened slot accounts. Contribution to the ”general treasury” is connected to a significant amount of money. Some convicts, given their income, are bounded to contributing only 20 GEL per month, and, in some cases, a cell contribution is of 300-400 GEL. One of the convicts noted that 200 GEL was collected from his cell for “general treasury” per month, and since he did not have the financial means, other prisoners alienated him.
Nino Lomjaria also highlights a report published by the Council of Europe anti-torture Committee, according to which in the N15 penitentiary facility there are alarming relationships based on the pernicious influence of the informal prisoner hierarchy and the administration admits that the delegation of authority to so-called watchers is due to maintaining order and security.
“In the facilities visited during the monitoring, especially in the semi-open type prisons, the order is provided mainly by informal supervisors. The illusory order in the facilities is based on violent methods and in fact, is very fragile, which in the long or even in the short term, poses an extreme danger to the lives and safety of prisoners.
It is noteworthy that last year in the N14 penitentiary facility two convicts, Levan Kortava and Giga Partenadze, died as a result of a confrontation between prisoners. It should be noted that risk factors in semi-open type prisons in terms of order and security do not insure against such cases in these facilities. At the same time, it should be noted that over the years, along with the strengthening of the influence of informal governance the number of applications sent to the Public Defender’s Office from the semi-open prisons is decreasing.
It is crucial that the measures for overcoming the criminal subculture to be implemented in line with the protection of the rights and security of the prisoners; the violent and repressive methods must be excluded to prevent possible torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment “, – noted in a special report of the National Preventive Mechanism.
Here, the Public Defender offers specific recommendations to the Minister of Justice of Georgia:
The plan aiming at overcoming the problem of overcrowding in №2 and №8 penitentiary facilities should include the increase of the number of regime employees working in the wing of prison housing in such a way that there would be at least one employee per 15 prisoners who will be in charge for maintaining order and security;- Developing a strategy to target the criminal subculture aiming at overcoming the criminal subculture and informal governance in penitentiary institutions, which should include the following measures:* Preventing delegation of authority to current informal leaders to maintain order and security in institutions.
* Increase accountability, competence, and operational capabilities of employees.
* Ensuring the optimal ratio of the number of employees and prisoners to implement dynamic security practices. * Strengthening the skills of employees on issues concerning the communication with prisoners, conflict management, mediation, and action in accordance with the Code of Ethics.
* Strengthening rehabilitation services in the facilities, establishing appropriate conditions for detention, increasing the education/awareness of prisoners, fairly encouraging the prisoners, and involving them into various daily interesting/valuable activities. * Equipping the employees of the penitentiary facilities with the nametags, indicating their name, surname, and position as soon as possible.
* Developing by the prison administrations the format for regular meetings and dialogue with the prisoners to discuss and make the decisions on the daily needs of the prison.
In her response to the Public Defender’s report, the minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani stated that N. Lomdjaria was spreading rumors and there were signs of incompetence in her report.
“From this tribune, we have heard the truth, we have heard the rumors, we have heard incompetence, and we have heard many other things that if I started my speech with a joke, I was so worried that I needed to be placed in the de-escalation room for 24 hours. This is the Public Defender who does not visit the prisoners. “In 2018, Mrs. Nino herself visited the prison four times in total. She visited 1 prisoner at the prison hospital, whose name says nothing to the public. Thereafter, she visited the empty N7 penitentiary facility, meaning that she did not meet the prisoners before it started functioning. Then, in August 2018, she visited Mr. Giorgi Mamaladze at the N9 penitentiary facility. In October, she visited Mr. Mirza Subeliani in the Gldani facility. This is the total number of visits in 2018. In 2019, the number of visits to prisons and shaking hands with the prisoners by Mrs. Nino is zero. Due to the political turmoil in 2020, which took place in connection with the decision of the President, Mrs. Nino visited Giorgi Mamaladze on the second day of Christmas,” Tsulukiani said. .
According to her, the ombudsman writes a report based on the news brought to her from prison.
“When a prisoner insists on meeting with her, the ombudsman must go to the prison in person, or even if there is no such request, she must have a professional commitment to go to prison and meet with the prisoners. It is a pity that this is not the case. Accordingly, we are dealing with what the ombudsman will write in her report based on if what news the staff will deliver to her from prison. In 2017, when I was not the Minister of Penitentiary Service, and in 2018, the same ombudsman noted that subculture exists in prisons, although here Mrs. Nino states that there are questions that need answers. I have a question too. Why had not you requested this committee to discuss the issues concerning the subculture before you saw me in the position of the Minister? I think and I doubt that this discussion, demanded by you, is to ask me questions in person and to create the assumption in the public that something is not being done the way it should be done. I may think you are targeting me in person. However, I know that this is not the case, ” stated Tsulukiani.
In response to the Public Defender’s report on the situation in penitentiary institutions, Lawyer Ana Natsvlishvili stated:
“After the prison scandal in 2012, the penitentiary system was almost the only one where there was a feeling that the situation rather improved. There was no more violence, no more oppression, there were no more prisoners under pressure; But when, in general, the policy is not developing in the right direction, when state institutions are not in place, we knew that maintaining that achievement would be fragile and today we already have a very critical report from the Public Defender that says in prison a very difficult situation has returned with the modifications; It emphasizes the fact that less is said about the prison administration violence itself, but the prison administration uses informal individuals in prisons, the same prisoners to oppress other prisoners, and here is a conversation about various forms of pressure and violence. When in the state the vital institutions do not work and function accordingly, be it the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Court, of course, a penitentiary facility could not become an island where everything is in order and the situation outside is beyond the law? That is why in the prison is happening what is outside, it is disarray, people developed the syndrome of impunity, the fact that encourages the crime.
“Archil Chopikashvili, a lawyer of ”Tbilisi Human Rights House,” tells us that the criminal (watcher) subculture in prison indicates the weakness of the administration. According to him, the governing body should control the penitentiary facilities with properly trained, state employees in a way, stated in the law.
According to the lawyer Vakhtang Kvizhinadze, in the penitentiary facilities, the prisoners must be accommodated according to the crime they committed and the sentence, lifestyle:
“First of all, we need to separate from these people relatively vulnerable, easily submissive individuals; alike people should be together. It does not take much; the main thing is political will and diligence. Put everyone together with their past and lifestyle. And if this is a problem, the government will still have to do it,” Kvizhinadze added.
Despite the Minister’s self-justification, the influence of criminal subculture on the management of penitentiary facilities in today’s Georgia is obvious and it screams out loud. Authorities often prefer to “go down” with it than to fight the “jungle law” in prisons. As a result, we get an ugly system, where the relatively weak fight not for rehabilitation-resocialization but physical survival. In Georgian prisons, criminal subculture is not a recent phenomenon. Leaving aside its earlier roots, in the Soviet prison-camps the government was using “strong individuals” to establish so-called “polojhenie” (order). This was when the Soviet prison-camp administrations could not control the overcrowded facilities.
After the ‘’Rose revolution’’ the authorities opposed the criminal subculture with the cruelty of the administration. The so-called thieves-in-law were placed apart from the other prisoners in a separate prison based on the principle of “to rip each other apart.” In the end, the policy based on the “tit for tat” method did not bring the desired result and eventually overthrow the previous government. After 2012, the temporarily “suppressed” criminal subculture under the conditions of “release of reins” regained some of its influence. In recent years, a lot of facts were publicized that the prison is run by “thieves in law” (so-called watchers) and not by the prison administration itself. Despite the government’s justification, this is the case when “you can’t hide your spear in a bag.”
But in addition to domestic prisons, criminal subculture is spread like a “cancer” in our districts, schools, and parliament, everywhere. Almost every day somewhere the ”case is solved” with not-so-favorable results. Often the media only focuses on high-profile cases when another “take-down” results in health damage or murder. So, the alarm bell needs to ring in time. The most important thing is to raise public awareness, without which it is impossible to achieve tangible results.
Finally, since 2012, many progressive reforms have been implemented in penitentiary institutions. The number of prisoners was halved, and the situation of those who remained there was improved. The prison almost became the business card of the appointed government.
Over the years, the situation has worsened. Except for the government, everyone now recognizes that local prisons are governed not by law and justice, but by naked force (Jungle law). It is inadmissible to rest the citizens’, even prisoners’ health and life on the “goodwill” of some “goodfella” (so-called watcher, thief). Until this brutal ugliness is over, the disgraceful “Prison Footage” will never end and we will have Kortava, Partenadze, Dzvelaia, Maisuradze, Pirtskheliani …
Find Georgian version on the following link: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%aa%e1%83%98%e1%83%ae%e1%83%94%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%a8%e1%83%98-%e1%83%ab%e1%83%90%e1%83%9a%e1%83%90%e1%83%93%e1%83%9d%e1%83%91%e1%83%a0%e1%83%98%e1%83%95%e1%83%98-%e1%83%ac%e1%83%94%e1%83%a1/