From: Alice Taylor
Government to Close Infamous Zaharia Prison Hospital, but Where Will the Inmates Go

Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj has said that the government is planning to close the Zaharia prison in Kruja which currently holds patients with mental health conditions.

In a plenary interpellation today, she said it will be closed and patients will be transferred elsewhere.

“My interest is for Zaharia prison to be closed permanently. We are taking steps to close Zaharia after 30 years and to make a new investment. It will be this government that will close it. Those convicts who are there will be transferred elsewhere,” she said.

For more than a year, the Albanian Helsinki Committee has been calling for the prison to close due to overcrowding, staff shortages and an inability to provide proper care. They called conditions there “a serious violation of the rights of persons in this institution.”

They made five visits to the facility over 18 months and found constant and concerning failures in the quality of care provided. They said there was a disturbing level of overcrowding (30%), the rooms were too small, and that there were only two psychiatrists for over 284 patients.

There was also no heating available but some prisoners were allowed portable heaters that are considered dangerous and a risk to life, especially in such cramped conditions.

The Council of Europe has been raising the alarm over the prison since 2016 when it called for its closure and the prosecution of those responsible for “inhuman and shameful treatment”. 

They also found that 98% of those imprisoned there are not criminals and are there due to a mental health condition. This is against the law, according to the CoE. They reported that inmates were imprisoned under a provision allowing forced treatment, described as a “harsh policy”

The CoE noted that psychiatric patients were “held for many years under unacceptable conditions and with insufficient psychiatric care”.

It is not known where the patients and inmates at Zaharia will be moved to as independent reports have found that conditions in psychiatric facilities in the country are “unacceptable” and “insufficient”.

Some patients were kept in solitary confinement, amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, others offered one shower a week, and up to 50 patients held in one space with no respect for privacy. In some cases, patients had not been outside for years.

Exit has sent questions to the Ministry of Justice regarding where the inmates will be relocated to.