The Complaints About the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak Received from Prisons / 01–15 December

In this report, we are presenting the complaints received over the advice line of Civil Society in the Penal System Association between 01-15.12.2020, without giving any information about prisons and prisoners. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to the date of this report, we received complaints from 127 different penal institutions. 80 of these institutions are closed prisons, 47 of them are open prisons. These reports include up to date complaints from the prisons for the specified time range. By comparing the reports, you could follow up on which complaints have decreased in time and which new applications have been added. In this report, the current health problems, complaints, and demands of the prisoners in the risk group will be included. You can read the situation of ill prisoners who agreed to share their stories under the title of the cases below.


The Capacity Problem in Prisons

Overcrowding in prisons is a problem that has been going on for a long time, and prisoners face many issues due to this reason. In addition to the problems listed below, we could say that many applications for violations that we received are mostly caused by overcrowding.

The prisoners reported that their wards were cramped, that their beds were too close to each other, and that they had to sleep at this intimacy, that they could not establish enough physical distance, that too many prisoners had to come together in the common areas, such as dining halls. In some prisons, closure of prison yards at certain times due to the cold weather has limited the movement of the prisoners that causes them to spend time in the same area close to each other.


The General Condition of Prisons and Hygiene Measures

It has been reported that,

  • While the prisons had been disinfected periodically and regularly at the beginning of the epidemic, this frequency has decreased recently, there are some wards that have not been cleaned for 6 months,
  • In some prisons, due to some wards were turned into quarantine wards, other wards are getting more crowded, thus, fresh air cannot circulate in the wards,
  • In some closed prisons, due to the small windows, the wards cannot be adequately ventilated,
  • In some prisons, ventilation has been arbitrarily opened late and closed early, closing the ventilation minimizes the access to fresh air,
  • In some prisons, the radiators are not heated enough,
  • In some prisons, prison officers make body and ward searches without complying with social distancing rules and are not wearing masks,
  • In some open prisons, only prison officers follow the precautions while the other staff do not, and this puts the prisoners at risk.


Hygiene of Prisoners

It has been reported that,

  • While some prison administrations hand out disinfectant and bleach to the wards, in some prisons these materials are not provided free of charge,
  • Free distributed products are limited and insufficient to meet the needs,
  • While in some prisons, masks are provided to the prisoners making phone calls, in some prisons, masks are not provided to prisoners during phone calls and in other areas outside their wards even though they make requests; in some prisons, prison officers threaten prisoners with withholding masks, therefore prisoners have trouble accessing the mask,
  • In some prisons, cleaning products are not provided free, and products are not provided to prisoners who are unable to pay their price,
  • In many prisons, there are not any sanitizing products in toilets,
  • Bathrooms are filthy and bathroom use, and hours are restricted in crowded wards,
  • The number of sinks is insufficient,
  • In some prisons the water is unclean and unusable; water is cut off frequently, hot water is limited and only at certain times it is provided,
  • There are problems with ensuring personal hygiene.



It has been reported that,

  • The meals served in some closed prisons are of poor quality, and unhygienic; served cold,
  • The food supply is not enough for all prisoners; in some prisons, they ran out of food in a short time,
  • Due to all of these problems, the prisoners who cannot eat the food served in prisons are forced to meet their nutritional needs from the food in prison canteens,
  • The number of pieces of bread, distributed with meals decreased, also its weight and quality decreased,
  • While the protein and carbohydrate balance were maintained in the meals previously distributed in prisons, now mostly rice and pasta are provided,
  • In some prisons, three kinds of food were reduced to two types,
  • Products in canteens are expensive and the product variety is low,
  • In some prisons, 10 pieces of fruit are distributed to 15-person wards, and even when they want to purchase fruit and vegetables from the canteen, there is not enough product,
  • Dietary food is not provided, in prisons that served diet food, a single type of diet food is given without considering the different diseases,
  • Vitamins and immune-boosting supplements are not provided.


Access to the Right to Health

 It has been reported that,

  • No precautions have been taken for the risk groups, chronically ill, and elderly; cleaning supplies are not provided, instead, prisoners have to take measurements on their own,
  • In some prisons, doctors do not attend the infirmary, or do not attend regularly; the prisoners wrote a petition to the City Health Directorate and the Ministry of Health for their infirmary requests but could not receive a response,
  • Even when some prisoners are taken to the infirmary, they cannot access all medication including medications with the medical report and the laboratory tests are not performed,
  • In some prisons, ill prisoners are not given their medication on time,
  • Even though some prisoners thought they had the symptoms of Covid-19, their request to be tested were not fulfilled,
  • Many prisons do not have hospital referrals and regular treatment opportunities,
  • In many prisons, hospital referrals and regular treatments have halted,
  • In some prisons, a limited number of hospital referrals have been made; in some prisons, hospital appointments were canceled, and the appointments of prisoners with a date of surgery were postponed due to the absence of hospital referrals,
  • Prisoners with multiple illnesses are referred to a hospital only for one illness, are not referred for other illnesses, since they can only be treated for the illness that was referred for, they have to wait to be transferred again for other illnesses,
  • Dental units do not serve in many prisons, prisoners’ treatments are made only with antibiotics and painkillers, and since prisoners cannot be referred to hospitals, dental complaints have increased,
  • Even if the infirmary doctors stated that it is necessary to send the prisoners to the hospital due to their health condition, the prison administrations have not made the hospital referrals, there are ill prisoners whose conditions have worsened, who have not been transferred to hospital for a long time,
  • Seriously ill prisoners who were transferred to the hospital have been sent back to their prison, because there was no available bed in the hospital,
  • When some prisoners were taken to the emergency room, even though hospital doctors said they should be hospitalized, the prisoners were taken back to the prison,
  • Stopping hospital referrals for chronically ill prisoners for a long time has increased their health problems and this has brought their condition to critical stages,
  • Carrying more than one prisoner in shuttles increases the risk of contamination,
  • Since the hospitals are far from the prisons, the duration of waiting in the shuttles and the risk of illness have been increasing.


Quarantine Wards

It has been reported that,

  • Since all prisoners have to be quarantined for 14 days following a hospital visit, prisoners’ concerns about contracting the virus are exacerbating regarding transferring to a hospital and the prisoners who cannot live by themselves do not want to transfer to hospitals because they do not know how to take care of themselves,
  • Seriously ill prisoners who have to visit the hospitals have been quarantined after their visits and the prisoners who cannot take care of themselves alone have been having various difficulties,
  • Sick prisoners with medical reports stating that they must be kept under observation and that they cannot stay alone continue to be kept alone in quarantine wards; no medical treatments are available to them and their regular check-ups are not made,
  • Sick prisoners staying in some quarantine wards think that they cannot benefit sufficiently from the necessary health services,
  • In some quarantine wards, sick prisoners are not given their medication,
  • In some prisons, the duration of staying in quarantine wards have increased for already staying prisoners due to new prisoners are taken to these wards, and some prisoners have to stay in the quarantine wards for more than 15 days,
  • In some prisons, quarantine wards are not hygienic and adequately ventilated,
  • In some prisons, prisoners kept in quarantine alone are not allowed to access fresh air or kept in areas without ventilation, so quarantine conditions are applied as solitary confinement,
  • Areas used as quarantine in some prisons are in the form of wards and prisoners stay in large groups,
  • In some open prisons, prisoners in quarantine wards and other wards use the same toilet and bathroom,
  • Quarantine wards in some prisons are overcrowded and prisoners have to sleep on the ground,
  • The basic needs of prisoners staying in the quarantine sections of some prisons such as newspapers, radio, TV, books, and teakettles are not provided,
  • In some prisons, radios that the prisoners bought from the institution commissary were confiscated, and the denial of access to the AM radio minimized their right to be informed,
  • In some prisons, prisoners kept in quarantine due to the suspicion or precautions of Covid-19 are cannot use their telephone rights and access to fresh-air compared to other prisoners,
  • Families are not given enough information about the situation of prisoners diagnosed with Covid-19, and regular information is not provided,
  • Some seriously ill prisoners’ health status has worsened due to the negative effects of quarantine conditions.


The Cases

  • Mehmet Salih Filiz – Ödemiş Type-T Closed Penal Execution Institution

Mehmet Salih Filiz was diagnosed with colon cancer at 23. While his treatment continues, he had to be transferred from Antalya Type-L Closed Penal Execution Institution to Ödemiş Type-T Closed Penal Execution Institution. He has been staying at Ödemiş Type-T Closed Penal Execution for a month. During his stay, his health has deteriorated. His lungs are in dire condition and he is vomiting blood. He has been feeding on special food. His medicines are not given to him because they have to be imported from Europe. He was not provided with masks and cleaning supplies. In his ward, social distance is impossible. Even though the doctor who examined him asked for his transfer, his transfer was not made. To get transferred to a hospital Filiz was asked to sign a medical liability waiver in case he contracts the coronavirus and experiences a medical violation. His family and Filiz are anxious about the hospital transfer since he will have to stay in a quarantine ward for 14 days after his visit and he is not capable of taking care of himself.

  • Deniz Yıldırım – Elazığ No. 1 Closed-High Security Penal Execution Institution

He has been in prison for four years. He has bowel-colon cancer. He had surgery on 31 January. Part of his small intestine is outside of his body. His chemotherapy started on 9 March and it continues. He has been held alone in the quarantine; however, he cannot meet his needs alone. His family states that isolating him is a problem, if he experiences any medical problem there is not anyone who can help him. Yıldırım caught Covid-19 due to not paying attention to the number of people he came into contact with when he was transferred to the hospital. Yıldırım’s family stated that as a result of the treatment he overcame the disease, and his last test came negative.

  • Abdulsamet Durak – Türkoğlu No. 1 Type-L Closed Penal Execution Institution

He had a heart attack. He had an angiogram at the hospital and two more stents were placed in addition to the two stents he already had. During his three days at the hospital, he was treated in handcuffs, he was exposed to psychological violence. He did not have bypass surgery because he thought he would not get the proper care at the hospital. Currently, he is quarantined at the prison. His friend from his ward is staying with him and taking care of him.

  • Mehmet Emin Özkan – Diyarbakır Type-D Closed Penal Execution Institution

Mehmet Emin Özkan is 82 and staying in Diyarbakır Type-D Closed Execution Institution. In addition to 87% loss of function in his body, he has Alzheimer’s, malignant goiter, high blood pressure, intestinal and heart diseases, and bubbles in his brain. He has memory loss from Alzheimer’s and hearing loss in both ears. He has had 5 heart attacks and 4 angiomas so far. Özkan cannot sustain his life alone, his son who stays in the same ward with him took care of him. Özkan’s son was sent to a different prison against his will and he had to leave his father. Özkan, who could not continue his life with the care of his son, now, cannot make phone calls and talk to his family due to his health problems. His family is also unable to follow Özkan’s health condition and receive any information. Özkan is in the risk group and could not be treated during the pandemic, his application to the Forensic Medicine Institute was rejected.[1]


Other Complaints

It has been reported that,

  • With the new measures taken, instead of prison visits, the prisoners can only use their right to phone call only one or two times, and for 20 minutes in total, they have to talk to only one person during the calls,
  • The means that prisoners use to communicate with their families during the outbreak is being restricted,
  • During the outbreak, communication penalties have not been suspended, and they continue to be applied, due to the penalties of communication, prisoners are not able to call their families and this situation has been negatively affecting prisoners and their families,
  • In some prisons, it is said that the visitation cabins will be disinfected before and after visitations; even though closed visitations are expected to last one hour are reduced to 35-40 minutes for different reasons, this situation psychologically puts pressure on the relatives of prisoners coming from distant cities,
  • In some prisons, prisoners’ relatives are kept waiting in stuffy, crowded halls, they are not allowed to wait outside until their visitation period, and water is cut in waiting areas,
  • Even though prisoners apply for making open visitations with their families, their requests are being denied,
  • Since prisons are far from the cities where prisoners’ families reside, families cannot easily visit the prisons, they cannot use their 3-person friend visitation rights and this situation prevents prisoners’ exercise their visitation rights,
  • The families who could not come to the meeting sent parcels to the prisoners, but these parcels were not delivered to the prisoners even though they did not carry the risk of contamination; when the families sent back the returned parcels again, some prisons accepting the parcels and some not,
  • In some prisons, counting prisoners digitally has begun to be implemented and counting is performed through fingerprints,
  • With these measures, the common areas used by prisoners in some closed prisons are completely closed down and the use of prisoners is not permitted,
  • Prisoners staying in the same ward and contact, even though they are not at risk, are not allowed to use open sports halls,
  • Social activities cannot be held in prisons,
  • Prisoners have not been taken to the library, some prisoners cannot access books, and were not allowed to use photocopy machines,
  • Different requests of prisoners have been rejected on the grounds of pandemic conditions,
  • Although there are no COVID-19 cases in some prisons, requests for change of ward were denied,
  • In some prisons, the people kept in quarantine cannot use their telephone rights and access to the open air due to the suspicion of Covid-19,
  • Prisoners who have been granted the right to make telephone calls cannot express their complaints over the phone,
  • In some prisons, although prisoners have legal rights, they do not receive their petition numbers and get the results of their application, therefore they think that their petitions are not processed,
  • Prisoners’ applications to the Constitutional Court are not put into the process,
  • Prisoners have submitted the violations and complaints of their rights in prisons to administrative institutions, but they have not received any response regarding these applications,
  • Prisoners who want to convey their complaints to the prison administration are not interviewed on the grounds of the epidemic,
  • When the prisoners objected to the problems they experienced, they were threatened with disciplinary penalties by the prison officers,
  • Prisoners staying in open prisons have been threatened with having sent to a closed prison when they express any complaints,
  • In some prisons, prisoners can only convey their complaints to the prison officers, and their requests to meet with the institution administration are not accepted due to coronavirus measures,
  • In some prisons, letters are delivered late,
  • Prisoners cannot convey their complaints about the epidemic through letters, their letters are censored,
  • In some prisons, newspapers are not given to prisoners or given to a limited extent,
  • In some prisons, there are problems to access books during the pandemic,
  • Some prisons experienced long delays in the exchange of books stored in warehouses,
  • Some prisons have restrictions on books,
  • Prisoners have not been informed about the new legal regulations, prisoners were not able to follow these changes due to communication limitations; although CISST sent the updated version of the Prisoner Rights Handbook to the prisons in order to solve this problem, in some prisons the book is not given to the prisoners,
  • Some prisoners could not obtain products from the external commissary and their demands were not met,
  • The cost of communication tools such as letters and faxes has increased, and prisoners who do not have financial resources are affected by these increases,
  • In some prisons, the clothes sent to prisoners from outside are sent back to their families without notifying them or their clothes in the warehouse are not given to them,
  • In some prisons, lawyer visits are obstructed for different reasons,
  • In some prisons, prisoners have not been allowed to be taken to the barbers for six months and male prisoners’ scissors and shavers are seized,
  • Due to shift work system caused by the quarantine, ill-treatment, psychological pressure, and verbal and physical violence against prisoners have increased in prisons,
  • The prison officers put psychological pressure on prisoners during the counting,
  • All transfers were stopped due to the coronavirus measures, and some prisoners were sent to different prisons without their demands,
  • The leave permits of prisoners staying in open prisons have been extended for 3-7 days because of the coronavirus outbreak, prisoners could not benefit from health services in case of illness because they do not have work permits and social security during this period, they could not get health service from public hospitals and had to go to private hospitals, this situation financially leave prisoners in a difficult situation,
  • The prisoners who are on leave and find it difficult to meet their needs cannot receive support from the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation in this process.


Problems Encountered by Prisoners with Special Needs

It has been reported that,

  • Aggravated life sentence prisoners cannot meet with their families, and unlike other prisoners, their number of telephone call rights were not increased in this process,
  • The fresh air hours of aggravated life prisoners are reduced, and prisoners who are only allowed to access fresh air for one hour a day cannot get enough fresh air,
  • Minimizing the number of meetings with families has exacerbated the isolation conditions for the prisoners, who are kept alone, cannot benefit from the common areas as other prisoners, and cannot socialize,
  • Foreign prisoners cannot receive money and cargo packages due to the closed borders, telephone calls to abroad have been disrupted and stopped in some places, and they cannot benefit from the right to visitation, which is newly started,
  • Foreign national prisoners cannot access radio channels in foreign languages ​​due to the ban on AM radio in some prisons,
  • Foreign national prisoners do not have access to their rights, are subjected to ill-treatment, humiliation, and discrimination
  • Some foreign national prisoners, although they can benefit from the penal law, cannot exercise their probation rights,
  • Trans prisoners who are in the process of gender affirmation cannot continue their transition process due to the cessation of hospital referrals, they are unable to access hormone medicines for different reasons,
  • No additional measures have been taken for prisoners over the age of 65 that are in the risk group,
  • Due to the measures against the Covid-19, some women prisoners had to leave their children between the ages of 0-6 in other parent’s care, so both women and their children were affected negatively,
  • There is no special work or planning to meet the different needs of prisoners with disabilities arising from the pandemic,
  • Due to switching to remote education of schools, prisoner students cannot access educational materials and computers in prisons, cannot make photocopies, receive copies sent from abroad, and continue their education.



[1] CISST released a joint statement for the treatment of Mehmet Emin Özkan: