Contributor(s)Pavel Sapelko / Human Rights Centre Viasna / Prison Insider

Daily life

The Criminal Code indicates that cells must be equipped with ventilation, a television, a fridge, toilets and beds[^cedh]. This disposition is, in fact, never respected

There are no individual cells. Twelve people may share an 8m2 cell or three people a 1.5x3 meters cell. Eight women can be crammed into a 8x6 meter cell in the women’s block. In the Brest-Litovsk prison, 6 to 10 prisoners have to share a 2x3 meters cell.

Prisoners have to sleep on the floor when placed in cells where no mattress is provided.

Some cells are not equipped with heating, in spite of the low temperatures registered during winter. Likewise, the ventilation system may be inefficient in some cells during summer.

Inmates can smoke in the cells, smokers and non-smokers are mixed, and even those who are sick or have asthma.

Windows are very small; they are often covered with metal or plastic so that no sunlight can enter. A lamp is on 24 hours a day in some establishments.

New inmates are placed in “transition cells” upon arrival. Up to 20 people live in cells designed to host 4 or 5. Inmates receive food in a common dish. All people are mixed, even people who are seriously ill.

[^cedh]:For the European Court of Human Rights there must be at least 4m2 per person in a shared cell, to respect human dignity

Meals are served twice a day, three times a day in some establishments. Breakfast, they have porridge and tea. Fort the lunch; soup, porridge, meat pie, bread and tea. The amount of food is not enough. The persons on isolation districts receive less food.

Inmates often have intestinal problems, sometimes stomach ulcers, due to the quality of food. A case of serious food poising took place in Akrestina –a short-term arrest facility—. Victims had to be taken to the hospital.

Prisoners can receive food parcels from family or friends. They can buy food from the establishments if they have money on their account. A list identifies the foods that detainees are entitled to purchase. The money they can spend per month is limited.

Prisoners have right to one shower per week. In some prisons, a shower is only authorised every two weeks.

Uniforms are different for each type of prisoner: pre-trial, convicted, sentenced to death, sentenced to life imprisonment and convicted of drug dealing.

In some cells the toilet is in the middle of the cell, without any separation. If a separation exists, it is often a very small wall, less than one meter in height. Toilets are frequently placed next to the dining table. If the cell does not have a toilet, detainees can go to the outside toilets twice a day. In the Grodno facility, the supervisors escort the inmates to the toilet, at 6 am and 6 pm.

Some prisons are infested with pests. The presence of rats has been denounced in Akrestina prison.

The law does not impose any obligation to provide medical care for those who are on pre-trial detention. A prison officer simply asks for information about their health upon arrival.

Newly sentenced prisoners are subject to a medical examination when they arrive at the convicted facilities.

Facilities for sentenced inmates have a medical unit with sanitary staff, including dentists and psychologists. Medical care is provided for free. Cases of medicines administered by forced to inmates have been denounced.

Medical units are part of the prison administration, which restrains the independence of the medical staff. When prisoners are tortured or beaten, doctors refuse to report. An independent medical doctor can visit the prisoners. An authorisation of the head of the institution is necessary, but it almost never happens. The costs have to be borne by the prisoners.

Inmates contract a lot of diseases like HIV/Aids, tuberculosis or pneumonia. A medical report of 2014 estimates that the rate of tuberculosis is four times higher in prison than outside.

Inmates are entitled to one hour’s walk per day. In some establishments, the walk lasts only 30 or 40 minutes. The right to a walk is often denied to persons in administrative detention and to prisoners of conscience.

Relatives are allowed to bring in games such as chess. They can also provide inmates with a television post.

Prisoners may have access to the library’s books.

Death row inmates cannot work. Pre-trial detainees can request a work permit.

Work is mandatory for convicted persons. Those who refuse may be subject to solitary confinement for 15 days. Long-term refusals can be punished with an additional two-years prison sentence. Only a medical certificate can exempt someone from prison work.

Inmates work eight hours a day, with a lunch-break. Prisoners are distributed in groups and work in different workshops: metallurgy, wood, sewing, industrial rubber and the manufacture of emblems and insignias. They cannot choose the type of work they want.

In most cases, work is carried out inside the prison facility and is managed by the prison administration. Prisoners that maintain peaceful relations with the staff may work outside the prison, for a private company. The law prohibits hiring detainees for more than two hours a day without paying them. However, they can be forced to do maintenance work, ten hours a week, without pay.

Prisoners work six days a week. The State retains a large part of the salary to cover the costs of incarceration and to reimburse any debts. The Director of the Department of Execution of Punishment announcement, on August 14, 2016, that the maximum percentage of salary withheld would increase from 75% to 90%.

They generally do not receive a pay slip. If they receive one, there is no detail on the hours worked or the remuneration.

The Department for the Execution of Punishment does not provide safety equipment. There is an average of one work accident per week. Accidents resulting in permanent handicap are common. Some have cut their fingers or arms with woodworking machines. The prison administration does not provide safety glasses when working with metal fragments. Several prisoners have arrived at the Minsk National Hospital with eye problems; some have even lost their sight.

The Department for the Execution of Punishment is never held responsible for work accidents inside prisons. Wardens can force prisoners to sign a document where they recognise responsibility for the accident they suffered.

Working conditions are particularly hard in Labor Treatment Profilactoriums (LTP). They should, in theory, comply with labor laws. Salaries amount eight hours of work per day. In practice, inmates work extra hours without compensation. No sick leaves are authorised.

Persons detained in LTPs are most often assigned to construction sites. The staff supervises inmates during work hours. No safety courses are provided. They must sign a document stating otherwise. The administration does not provide work clothes or safety equipment. Accidents occur regularly.

Detainees working

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All the establishments have libraries with books in Belarusian and Russian. Inmates cannot have more than five books or magazines at a time, except for textbooks. They can take courses to obtain the bachelor’s degree and or professional trainings.

Persons sentenced to death or to life imprisonment have no access to education.

On 13 October 2015, the Gomel penal colony No. 4 starting implementing a new project that provides distance education to convicted persons. Fourteen prisoners took part in it. The project is part of an international initiative named “Education opens doors” and is funded by the European Union and the association “Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband e.V” in Belarus. The Department of the Execution of Punishment has engaged in modifying the sentence enforcement legislation if the experience is has positive results. As of now, the project is still undergoing and works well.

Prisoners have the right to practice their religion freely.

There are fourteen orthodox churches and five catholic chapels. Persons who have been convicted may, upon request, converse with clergymen. Prison authorities often refuse to celebrate religious ceremonies alleging they are not compatible with life inside prison.

Prison authorities refuse to organise a funeral with a religious ceremony, after a death row inmates is executed.

Associations need special permission from the penitentiary administration to enter the prisons.

Cash is prohibited inside prison.

A money account is opened for every new inmate. The money they possess upon arrival and their salary are deposit into it. Relatives can wire a limited amount of money per month.

Indigent prisoners receive basic supplies from the Department of the Execution of the Punishments.

Prison staff is in charge of sending prisoner’s complaints to the corresponding legal authorities. In practice, they often refuse to send the complaints or hand in the answers.

When legal authorities do receive a complaint, they rarely start an investigation for violations of rights.

Prisoners do not have the right to vote, even during pre-trial detention.

Inmates are regularly and arbitrarily searched. In pre-trial detention centers, cells are searched, on average, once a week.

Solitary confinement is used as a form of sanction. It can last up to fifteen days. The head of the prison facility can extend this measure.