Romania has a rising prisoner population but it has failed to provide extra amenities required to comply with the EU’s Article 3 specifying the conditions required to comply with a prisoner’s human rights.
The result of this lack of investment in the prisons means that prisoners are having to endure overcrowded conditions.
The Council of Europe report on prison conditions[i] in Romania points to an 8% growth in prisoner numbers between June and December last year, notably the period of the Covid. “Some prisons not only operate well above their official capacity but have in fact overcrowding levels far exceeding the national average reported (119.2 % in December 2020).”
The report goes on to demand a Romanian government response given that the country is judged against Article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights. Compliance with this Article is Mandatory.
“The persisting overcrowding and the very severe levels reported for some prisons, against the background of the recent increase in the size of the prison population, require swift and decisive action to put an end to a situation found to fall within the scope of Article 3 of the Convention, a provision which permits no exception or derogation.”
The government’s plans to renew and expand the prison estate, “do not appear capable of delivering a sufficiently swift and definite solution to this problem,” said the Council of Ministers.
The Council of Ministers Committee calls for details about the “legislative measures envisaged and their expected impact.
The Committee stresses the importance for the authorities to draw on other findings by the European Union on the treatment of prisoners.
The committee points to the inadequacy of proposed Romanian measures to deal with the problem, even if these were indeed realised.
Creating new places of detention will not of itself “provide a lasting solution to the problem of prison overcrowding.” Other measures and policies aimed at reducing the size of the prison population and keeping it at manageable levels are also required.
The European Committee demands that the Romanian government maintain the state of repair of the prison system, currently creaking at the edges and inadequate if it is to comply with Article 3, as mentioned above.
The Committee wants to be kept informed about such improvements. “It is important that the preparatory work to determine the infrastructure investments required is rapidly completed and that the Committee is informed about the content of these works and the timetable foreseen for their implementation”.
The Committee points to the lack of qualified medical personnel in the prison system, a deficiency which needs tackling with the “utmost priority” in the Committees words. In the wake of the Covid pandemic and the spread of the virus inside the crowded prison system, this points carries extra clout.
“The persistent difficulties encountered by the prison administration in attracting such personnel clearly show that repeating the attempts to recruit is insufficient and that more far-reaching action is required to resolve this problem.”
Crowded prison conditions are known to provide a disincentive to people who might otherwise apply to work within the prison system.
The system of arrest and detention centres is further found deficient, as it does not provide conditions “adapted to the length of the prisoners’ stay, including an appropriate regime of out-of-cell activities and suitably equipped premises for such activities”.
The Committee says, “It remains for the authorities to confirm that their plans meet these requirements.”
Romania could be faced with having to compensate prisoners subject to inadequate facilities, if they fail to satisfy the European authorities. The report states, “The Court has now decided to re-examine whether an action before the domestic courts to establish the State’s non-contractual liability offers an effective avenue to claim financial compensation on account of inadequate conditions of detention and has also requested information about the functioning of the preventive remedy.
“The need for further action on the part of the authorities to ensure that domestic law provides for an effective remedy or combination of remedies for such complaints must be determined once the Court has made its assessment.”
[i] H46-21 Rezmiveș and Others and Bragadireanu group v. Romania (Applications Nos. 61467/12 and 22088/04)
Supervision of the execution of the European Court’s judgments
[ii] the indications in the Rezmiveş and Others pilot judgment (§§ 117 – 119) and the Council of Europe’s extensive work (in particular the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation Rec(99)22 concerning prison overcrowding and prison population inflation, the European Committee on Crime Problems’ 2016 White Paper on Prison Overcrowding and the specific recommendations of the CPT).