Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST)
Civil Society in Penal System Association (Ceza İnfaz Sisteminde Sivil Toplum Derneği, CISST) 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 specify the much-needed, efficient reforms. CISST 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 within prisons.
The main aim of CISST is the mobilization of civil society to bring Turkey’s prisons in line with international standards, and to help Turkey’s penal system to become transparent and better connected to civil society. Human dignity should always be respected, wherever the place, including prisons. Through the years, CISST has adopted and adjusted several methods to achieve this goal.
Below listed are these culture-sensitive methods which are respectful to fundamental human rights and liberties.
CISST 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, those sentenced to aggravated imprisonment for life and prisoners with health issues, the disabled, Roma, students and workers. CISST established Turkey’s Prison Information Network (TPIN) in 2015 to improve the conditions of PwSN in prisons and to guarantee that their rights are respected. TPIN has thematic networks for each and every PwSN group composed of civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals that are interested in the well-being of PwSN. Each thematic network is coordinated by an expert who acts as a link with a task to facilitate communication and cooperation.
Further, a Lawyers Network has been established by the end of 2017, in order to carry out lawyer visits to prisoners. Lawyer visits is systematized to develop another tool for gathering information form prisons. Moreover, the network increases the legal advice capacity of CISST. The network presently has 46 members from 20 cities.
Monitoring & Advocacy
CISST monitors prisons in accordance with its fundamental aims, to provide that all prisoners enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms, that they are able to access (legal) remedies, and their dignity is respected at all times.
From 2005 to date, CISST reached more than 2500 prisoners from 167 open and close prisons and have had contacts with prisoners from 58 percent of Turkey’s prisons. Since 2013, members of CISST have carried out several prison monitoring visits in Turkey and three in Italy and Belgium. During this time, the following tools are used to gather information and data:
- Prison monitoring visits,
- Correspondence (letters),
- CISST advice-line,
- Lawyer visits,
- Interviews with families,
- Human rights applications to official bodies for assessment and redress,
- Applications based on the right to information act,
- Parliamentary questions,
- Media review.
CISST uses and shares these data in its publications, researches and advocacy activities. For instance, with the data at hand, we were able to make applications to the following institutions amongst others and ask for assessments, re-assessments, and redress:
- Ministry of Justice and their Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Houses,
- Human Rights Commission of Turkish Grand National Assembly,
- National Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (OPCAT national preventive mechanism),
- Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Directorate of Communications,
- Province and District Councils for Monitoring Prisons,
- Province and District Councils of Human Rights.
CISST 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. CISST has been holding annual conferences and workshops to bring experts together and to provide them a common platform for discussion.
In order to meet the need to have more academic research on the penal system, we have made more than twenty publications. These publications include handbooks on the common problems of PwSN and international recognition of prisoners’ rights. We have also produced brochures to raise awareness on actual matters. Translations were made to enable Turkish-speaking readers to reach academic knowledge as well as international suggestions and standards on the issue.
In 2015, CISST also started TCPS Research Funding for researchers who focus on prison studies.
CISST conducts various projects to fulfil its task. Until now, our projects have been funded by European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights/ European Union Delegation, Central Finance and Contracts Unit (Turkish Ministry of Finance with EU Funding), Global Dialogue, Netherlands Consulate General in Istanbul, Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Heinrich Böll Foundation. Below is a list of completed projects to give an idea of the steps taken by CISST until today:
- Advocacy for People in the Penal System, 2016-18,
- Health In Prisons, 2015-17,
- Turkey’s Prison Information Network, 2014-16,
- CSOs Network for Prisoners with Special Needs, 2014-15,
- The Role of Civil Society and University in Prison Administration, 2013-15,
- Raising Awareness for Prisoners with Special Needs, 2012-13,
- Big Games in Small Steps: Women and Children in Prisons, 2011-12,
- Preventing Human Rights Abuses in F-Type High Security Prisons in Turkey, 2008-10,
- Civil Society and University Contribution to the Prisons in Istanbul, 2011-12,
- Right to Education in Prisons, 2009-11,
- Situation of Female Prisoners in Prisons and the Contribution of Civil Society, 2009,
- Restorative Justice: Supporting Consensus Between Victims and Offenders, 2008-9.