Inhumane prison conditions continued to be a concern. Discrepancies in statistics existed between the data provided by the Ombudsman’s Office and by prison officials. As of November the ombudsman reported that the country housed a total of 2,329 detainees and prisoners, although the designed capacity of all facilities was only 1,952 inmates. There were no reports of prisoners serving beyond their maximum sentence. Prisoners had access to potable water. The ombudsman’s 2010 annual report stated that conditions in the prisons were unchanged and remained substandard and overcrowded. The report also noted that the opportunity for juvenile detainees to mingle with adult detainees remained a problem.
The CPT report also stated that fundamental change was required to address challenges facing the prison system. The lack of a professional management approach, low staffing ratios, and an absence of accountability and clear rules were particularly problematic. At Idrizovo Prison, the country’s largest prison facility, a number of credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by staff were received, and interprisoner violence remained a significant problem. Many inmates were held in deplorable living conditions, crowded together in a dilapidated, dangerous, and unhygienic environment, while most prisoners were offered no activities and locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.
In the remand sections of Skopje and Tetovo Prisons, inmates were offered no organized activities and less than one hour of daily outdoor exercise, if any. The CPT report also detailed the overcrowding and poor material conditions in which remand prisoners were kept. The report was particularly critical of the treatment of juveniles held in remand and recommended that action be taken to offer them educational and recreational activities and to ensure that they were never held in a situation of de facto solitary confinement.
The national authorities stated that measures were being taken to improve the conditions of detention in the prisons, particularly at Idrizovo Prison, with the support of a Council of Europe Development Bank loan. A new rulebook was adopted aimed at offering all prisoners a range of activities as well as the legal requirement of two hours of daily outdoor exercise.
The CPT report noted consistent allegations of mistreatment of patients by staff as well as of interpatient violence, in particular at Demir Hisar Psychiatric Hospital. The CPT recommended implementing a policy of zero tolerance, improving staffing levels and professionalism, upgrading living conditions, and establishing an independent system for complaints and inspections. National authorities reported that procedures were being adopted to ensure proper conduct by medical staff towards patients and continuing training for orderlies and nurses. Authorities had plans to upgrade living conditions.
At the Demir Kapija Special Institution for persons with mental disabilities, the CPT observed relaxed, positive relations between staff and residents. However, concerns were raised that the health-care needs of residents were not adequately met. National authorities responded that the quality of residential care improved following the recruitment of additional staff.
The country has 11 prisons and two juvenile correctional institutions. Of the 11 prisons, two are high-security prisons--Idrizovo in Skopje and the Stip prison. Six of these prisons also housed detainees. Men and women were held separately in both the prisons and the detention facilities. According to prison officials, the maximum capacity of prison facilities was 2,290. Prisons were designed to house 1,869 prisoners; detention facilities, 421 detainees; and the Tetovo Juvenile Correction Facility, 44 offenders. The total number of prisoners, including juveniles and women, was 2,300, of whom 21 were juvenile offenders serving their sentences in the Ohrid juvenile prison. The total number of all pretrial detainees was 402. Idrizovo had a separate women’s division housing all women offenders--both adults and juveniles--from the entire country. Juvenile prisoners were held separately from adults and housed at the low-security juvenile prison in Ohrid. Pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners. Detainees charged with serious crimes punishable by more than 10-year prison sentences were held at Idrizovo.
According to prison officials, two deaths of detainees were reported during the year. One detainee held at the Tetovo prison committed suicide. The second detainee died of natural causes at the Ohrid prison. Between ten and 12 prisoners died during the year--two in Skopje Prison, seven in Idrizovo, and one in Strumica prison. Six died while undergoing hospital treatments, one committed suicide, one died at home from natural causes while on weekend leave from prison, one died in a traffic accident while on weekend leave from prison, and one committed suicide while on weekend leave from prison.
Some media reported that on February 2, an inmate of the Suto Orizari detention center in Skopje was found dead in his cell. The body reportedly was sent for examination to the Forensic Medical Institute, but sources from the institute said they had no record of any such case. On November 14, a woman reportedly committed suicide while in detention at the Tetovo Prison Detention Unit. Police, an investigative judge, and a prosecutor inspected the site and turned the body over to forensic examiners to verify the cause of death.
The Ministry of Justice’s Sanctions Enforcement Administration conducted a survey of Idrizovo State Prison personnel and the Suto Orizari Detention Center in Skopje. Results indicated that more than half of the custodial personnel possessed little to no professional skills or knowledge of relevant laws. In response the primary prison employees union complained of lack of adequate equipment and training and severe understaffing.
In July the government enacted a new rulebook for detention centers that met EU standards, replacing the socialist-era rulebook. The new rulebook states that detainees will have access to a television and telephone and that security will be upgraded with a new modern control system.
The ombudsman regularly visited the country’s prisons and maintained complaint boxes there. The ombudsman stated that the right to express religious beliefs and practice religious rites in the penitentiary and correctional facilities was not hindered. Visitor access was allowed, but facilities remained insufficient for the number of prisoners, and conditions were poor.
In its October progress report, the European Commission reported that the government had adopted an annual program for the construction and renovation of prisons. Parts of the prisons where degrading conditions were reported (in particular Idrizovo Prison and its semi-open ward) were renovated. Conditions in the Tetovo Juvenile Correctional and Rehabilitation Institute continued to raise serious concerns, as did the closed ward of Idrizovo. 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.
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.
The government usually granted independent humanitarian organizations and the ombudsman access to convicted prisoners. 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. However, during the year the local branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee claimed that the government denied committee representatives access to prisoners.