The Complaints About the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak Received from Prisons / 01–31 March

In this report, we are presenting the complaints received over the advice line of Civil Society in the Penal System Association between 01-31.03.2021, without revealing any information about prisons and prisoners. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to the date of this report, we received complaints from 134 different penal institutions. 85 of these institutions are closed prisons, 49 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

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.

 

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,
  • In some prisons, due to overcrowding, fresh air cannot circulate in some wards,
  • In some closed prisons, due to the small windows, the wards cannot be adequately ventilated,
  • In some prisons, the radiators are not heated enough,
  • In some prisons, prison officers make body searches without complying with social distancing rules, and the officers search wards while using the same gloves for beds, personal materials, and garbage, and during the search, prisoners are not provided with masks, personal belongings of prisoners are confiscated,
  • In some prisons, prison officers do not take the necessary hygiene measures during the search, and prisoners in risk groups and with chronic diseases are concerned,
  • In some prisons, during the count, prison officers do not comply with the social distancing rules and do not wear masks.

 

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; the prisoners who cannot afford the products are not provided with sufficient materials,
  • While in some prisons, masks are provided to prisoners, in some prisons, masks are not provided to prisoners in other areas outside their wards even though they make requests,
  • 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,
  • In some prisons, water quotas have been implemented, thus the ward and personal cleaning cannot be done regularly,
  • There are problems with ensuring personal hygiene.

 

Nourishment 

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; prisoners have to sleep hungry due to insufficient evening meals,
  • 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 was maintained in the meals previously distributed in prisons, now mostly rice and pasta are provided,
  • Products in canteens are expensive and the product variety is low,
  • In some open prisons, the canteen is arbitrarily opened and closed, this practice causes queues in front of the canteen reducing social distancing,
  • 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,
  • Some prisoners have not visited the infirmary doctor for a long time, the prisoners have been submitting their complaints by writing a petition and they have been supplied with medicines in line with the statements in these petitions, the people who claim that they are healthcare workers have been making the decision of whether the prisoner should receive medication,
  • 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; some prisoners do not receive sufficient health care in prison infirmaries,
  • 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,
  • In cases where a specific medicine that requires a committee report cannot be prescribed in the infirmary and district hospitals, since some of these large hospitals with committees are now pandemic hospitals, prisoners’ files cannot be taken to the committee and therefore, these prisoners have problems accessing medicine,
  • 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, there is no equipment required for interventions such as filling and tooth extraction, 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,
  • The treatment of prisoners with illnesses such as tuberculosis and jaundice is disrupted, prisoners with tuberculosis staying in crowded wards do not have access to fresh air and their illnesses are affected by this situation,
  • Diseases that need to be followed up regularly, especially cancer, are not followed up,
  • 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,
  • In newly opened prisons or newly built quarantine wards, the wards are covered with dirt and lime; and prisoners have to clean these spaces since it is not hygienic and causes various discomforts,
  • 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 prisoners must stay in the quarantine wards for more than 15 days even though their COVID-19 test came negative,
  • In some prisons, epidemic diseases that cause itchiness occur in quarantine wards in which prisoners staying in after return from their trial; the prisoners were unable to access health care upon their complaints, and necessary measures were not taken for their diagnosis and treatment,
  • 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,
  • Some seriously ill prisoners’ health status has worsened due to the negative effects of quarantine conditions.

 

The Cases

  • Abdurrahim Demir – Edirne Type-F Closed Penal Institution

Abdurrahim Demir is 58 and has been in prison for 26 years, he has renal insufficiency and stays in a solitary cell. According to his medical board report, he has cataracts, myopia, hearing loss, hypoactive right kidney, hypoactive detrusor, third phase renal failure, stable coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis. In addition to these, he has cardiac insufficiency and he cannot meet his needs alone. Due to the pandemic, his treatment and necessary health checks cannot be carried out in the last year.[1] 

  • Mehmet Salih Filiz – Ödemiş Type-T Closed Penal 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 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 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 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.[2]

 

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; in some prisons, weekly allowed phone call duration is limited to 10 minutes,
  • The means that prisoners use to communicate with their families during the outbreak is being restricted,
  • 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,
  • Closed visitations are only allowed to be held with a maximum of two people, and this number is not increased despite the prisoners’ requests,
  • 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, 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, 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,
  • No social activities including workshops, sohbet, sports are allowed 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 for the applications they made to administrations, prosecution offices and the Constitutional Court and they do not receive a response for their applications, therefore they think that their petitions are not processed,
  • 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,
  • 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, return stubs of registered letters are not given to prisoners, letters sent with extra stamps do not reach prisoners,
  • In some prisons, prisoners in different wards are allowed free correspondence, however, free correspondence between the wards was stopped with the pandemic,
  • In some prisons, newspapers are not given to prisoners or given to a limited extent,
  • Some prisons experienced long delays in the exchange of books stored in warehouses; books are given to prisoners every 2 months in some prisons,
  • 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,
  • In some prisons, prisoners cannot send their letters to their lawyers in sealed envelopes; letters coming from their lawyers are not given to prisoners,
  • 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, this situation may differ for non-political and political aggravated life prisoners, and prisoners who are only allowed to access fresh air for one hour a day cannot get enough fresh air,
  • In addition to the bars in the cell windows of the aggravated life prisoners, densely window screens are installed, these screens prevent ventilation,
  • In the wards where adequate ventilation cannot be provided, the beds and walls are moldy, causing upper respiratory disorders due to the intense humidity,
  • Due to the cancellation of activities such as sports, conversations and workshops, aggravated life prisoners cannot socialize outside of open-air hours,
  • Due to the pandemic, aggravated life prisoners wash their clothes more frequently and they have to dry their laundry in their room because they are allowed to access open-air only for an hour a day; these conditions exacerbate respiratory and rheumatic problems,
  • Aggravated life sentence prisoners have to use the same place for their dishes, food and toilet needs because of the small and single sinks in their cells, which makes it difficult to maintain hygiene,
  • The demands for switching to a ward of prisoners kept in a solitary cell were not met,
  • 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,
  • The prisoners who are on hunger strike because of the worsening isolative conditions, either cannot access vitamin supplements or insufficient amount of vitamin supplements,
  • 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,
  • In some prisons, women’s clothes are not given to trans women prisoners,
  • 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,
  • There are no further plans for general and other educational activities for child prisoners.

 

 

[1] “Ağır Hasta Mahpus Abdurrahim Demir ve Tüm Hasta Mahpusların Sağlığa Erişiminin Önündeki Engeller Kaldırılmalıdır” başlıklı basın duyurumuzu bu linkten okuyabilirsiniz: http://cisst.org.tr/basin_duyurulari/agir-hasta-mahpus-abdurrahim-demir-ve-tum-hasta-mahpuslarin-sagliga-erisiminin-onundeki-engeller-kaldirilmalidir/

[2] CISST released a joint statement for the treatment of Mehmet Emin Özkan: http://cisst.org.tr/basin_duyurulari/yasli-ve-agir-hasta-mahpus-mehmet-emin-ozkanin-tedavisi-disarida-gerceklesmelidir/