Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST)

CİSST was founded in 2006 upon an urgent need for a rights-based civil society organization dealing specifically with the situation of prisons in Turkey. The ongoing debate on human rights violations within the penal system made it apparent that the full support of civil society is needed to address problems and to name necessary, effective reforms. CİSST has been up to this task by bridging the efforts of state authorities and civil society in order to strengthen and improve prisoners’ rights as well as the conditions of prisons.

The main aim of CİSST is to mobilise civil society to bring Turkey’s prisons in line with international standards, make them transparent as well as to strengthen their links with civil society. Human dignity should always be respected, also in prisons. Several methods were adopted and adjusted through years by CİSST to achieve this goal.

The mentioned methods, which are respectful to fundamental human rights and freedoms of people are listed below:


CİSST has been specially focusing on and advocating for the situation of prisoners with special needs (PwSN) since 2009. PwSN include women, children, LGBTI persons, foreigners, aggravated life prisoners, prisoners with health issues, disabled persons, Roma, students and workers. CİSST established Turkey’s Prison Information Network (TPIN) in 2015 to improve the conditions of PwSN in prisons and to monitor that their rights are respected. TPIN has sub-networks for each and every PwSN group composed of civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals that are interested in PwSN’s well-being. Each sub-network is coordinated by an expert who acts as a liaison with a task to facilitate communication and cooperation.

Further, a Lawyer Network is established by the end of 2017, in order to carry out lawyer visits to prisoners. Lawyer visits are another tool for gathering information from prisons. Moreover, the network increases the legal advise capacity of CİSST. So far, there are 46 members from 20 cities.

Monitoring & Advocacy

CİSST monitors prisons in line with its reason of existence, that all prisoners should enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms, that they should be able to access legal remedies, and their dignity should be respected at all times.

The following tools are used to gather information and collect data:

  • Prison monitoring visits,
  • Corresponding letters,
  • CİSST advice-line,
  • Lawyer visits,
  • Interviews with families,
  • Human rights applications to official bodies for investigation and termination of the violation,
  • Applications based on the Right to Information Code,
  • Parliamentary Questions, and
  • Media review

CİSST uses the collected data in its publications, researches and advocacy activities.

From 2015 till today CİSST reached to more than 2500 prisoners from 152 closed and 52 open prisons. This is to mean CİSST has been engaged with prisoners from 53% of Turkey’s prisons.


CİSST established Turkey’s Center for Prison Studies (TCPS) and the Prison Studies Library in 2015 not only to bridge the gap between civil society and academia but also to strengthen their ties. CİSST also started a research funding for researchers who focus on prison studies and called it TCPS Research Fund since 2015.

CİSST has been holding annual conferences and workshops to bring experts together and to provide them a common platform for discussion.


CİSST conducts various projects to fulfil its task. Below, there is a list of conducted projects to give an idea of the steps taken by CİSST until today:


  • “Local CSOs Institutional Support Program” funded by Civil Society Development Center, 2018-2012 (24 months)
  • “Improving Quality of Monitoring and Reporting” Project, funded by Netherlands Embassy 2018-2020 (26 months)
  • “Freedom of Speech in Prison” Project, funded by Sweden Consulate, 2017- March 2018, (12 months)


  • “Advocacy for People in the Penal System” Project, funded by European Delegation of Turkey and Open Society Foundation, 2016-2018.
  • “Health in Prison” Project, Netherlands Consulate, 2015-2017.
  • “Turkey’s Prison Information Network” Project, funded by European Delegation to Turkey and Open Society Foundation, 2014-2016.
  • “The Role of Civil Society and University in Prison Administration” Project, funded by European Delegation to Turkey, 2013-2015.
  • “Raising Awareness for Prisoners with Special Needs” project, 2012-2013.
  • “Big Games in Small Steps: Women and Children in Prisons” Project, 2011-2012.
  • “Civil Society and Prisons” Project, 2010-2011
  • “Preventing Human Rights Abuses in F-Type High Security Prisons in Turkey” Project, 2008-2010.
  • “Situation of Female Prisoners in Prisons and Civil Society Contribution” Project, 2009.
  • “Civil Society and University Contribution to the Prisons in Istanbul” Project, 2011-2012.
  • “Right to Education in Prisons” Project, 2009-2011.
  • “Restorative Justice: Supporting Consensus Between Victims and Offenders” Project, 2008-2009.