From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Council of Europe: ‘Inhuman and Degrading’ Conditions in Police Stations, Prisons, and Psychiatric Hospitals

A recent Council of Europe committee who visited Albania to report on the treatment of citizens in police, prison, or psychiatric custody has noted allegations of police ill-treatment, withholding of rights, inhuman and degrading treatment, and instances of detainees being hand and foot cuffed to beds.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited the country in November 2018 to observe the implementation of recommendations made after their previous visit. In particular, they paid attention to the conditions and treatment of detained individuals in police custody, inmates in several prisons, detention centres,  and conditions in psychiatric institutions. 

Whilst progress had been noted in a few areas, the overall findings were not positive with little changing since their last visit.

The delegation received a significant number of allegations that police had physically ill-treated criminal suspects. Most of these allegations mentioned the use of excessive force at the time of arrest, during transportation and during initial questioning “with a view to extracting a confession or obtaining information, or as a punishment.” The ill-treatment consisted of “slaps, punches, kicks, blows with an object, and excessively tight handcuffing”.

Inmates who made formal allegations against those they claim mistreated them had their cases allocated to the same prosecutor who was in charge of the criminal investigation against them. This could result in a conflict of interest and the CPT have requested further information on the number of complaints of ill-treatment by police officers, the number of criminal/disciplinary proceedings initiated, and the outcome of such processes.

The delegation were also “concerned and puzzled” by the fact that two prosecutors dealing with cases of alleged police ill-treatment, claimed that the crime of torture could not be committed by police.

Following interviews with people who had been detained, it became clear that the police were not consistently enforcing their right to access legal counsel. Instances of questioning without the presence of a lawyer, considerable delays in calling a lawyer, and not allowing the detainee to speak to their lawyer in private were observed and criticised by the delegation. The report asked the Albanian authorities to remind the police of their legal obligation to grant access to a lawyer from the first moment of being taken into custody.

Concerns were also raised over the failure to systematically subject detainees to a medical check-up after being detained. In the cases where medical checks did take place, they consisted of a few general questions and no actual physical examination.

When it comes to conditions, “very poor” conditions were observed in Police Stations 1, 2, 3, an 5 in Tirana. Cells were found to be “devoid of furniture” with detained persons obliged to sleep on mattresses placed on a “dirty floor”. Inmates were not provided with basic personal hygiene items and there was no heating during the winter months.

Cells in Albania’s prisons were found to be cramped, damp, in a poor state of repair, and with artificial lights that stayed on all day and night, interfering with prisoners ability to sleep.

The delegation received no accounts of physical ill-treatment from prison guards and on the contrary, inmates spoke positively about their experiences.

A visit was made to the Karrec Detention Centre where foreign nationals are detained. Isolation cells were found to be in a “very poor state of repair and an appalling state of hygiene”. Concerns were also raised over reports that foreign nationals had been “handcuffed to the bed” inside cells and in at least one case allegedly “hand and ankle cuffed to the bed for 24 hours”, This could “easily be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment”. 

All foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation complained “vigorously” about the almost total lack of information about their rights and the legal remedies at their disposal.

The situation in psychiatric facilities was not much better and has been “the subject of a long standing dialogue” between the CPT and the Albanian authorities. This is due to the fact that patients have been “held for many years under unacceptable conditions and with insufficient psychiatric care in the Prison Hospital in Tirana and Zaharia Special Facility in Kruja.”

One 15-year-old patient and several female patients were held in solitary confinement in “totally dilapidated, dark, damp and poorly ventilated cells” amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. 

It was also observed how patients in Elbasan psychiatric hospital were only offered one shower a week and that up to 50 patients were held in one open space with no respect for their privacy. The CPT also expressed concern that patients did not benefit from outdoor exercise and some had not been outside for months and even years on end. 

In some cases it was found that voluntary psychiatric inmates were not allowed to leave, resulting in a situation where they were “de facto deprived of their liberty”.

Dramatic shortages in health-care staff were observed and the number of psychiatrists and nurses was “insufficient to provide adequate care” or to ensure a safe environment.

The CPT recommended that the Albanian “redouble” their efforts in many areas, as well as taking significant steps towards ensuring patients and inmates are aware of their rights, receive information and avenues of recourse that they are entitled to, and that staff receive proper guidance and training in terms of the standards required.

They also called upon the authorities to ensure adequate medical care is given to new and existing inmates and that all allegations of ill-treatment are systematically reported to the competent prosecutor.

Structural conditions should be improved across the board and conditions should be updated and maintained to provide a better quality of life for those incarcerated for whatever reason.