Contributor(s)Human Rights Center (HRIDC)

Contact with the outside world

Prisoners can maintain family ties with short and long-term visits. The Public Defender has recommended that families be able to meet without a glass partition, however these are still in place in a number of prisons.Long-term visits, including conjugal visits, can last up to 23 hours in a dedicated room. However, not all prisons have these facilities.

Conjugal visits are guaranteed for women prisoners by article 1241 imprisonment code, which requires the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance to provide appropriate infrastructure. Despite this guarantee, the Ministry of Corrections does not allow conjugal visits for women, the unofficial reason being that these risk pregnancy and increased birth rates in the prison. Visits with family members last no longer than three hours and privacy is not protected.

For women prisoners, visits from family members last no more than three hours and lack privacy. The cabins dedicated for visits are so narrow that women prisoners have to meet their family members in the hallway under the supervision of the prison staff.

According to Order N97 of the Minister of Corrections, prisoners can make up to three phone calls per month at their own expense. However, because of many problems with the communications system, prisoners are often denied this right. Gogi Gakharia, Head of the Department of Corrections, confirmed this problem and announced in May 2015 that a new contract will be signed to ensure good phone connections for prisoners. This problem has not been resolved as yet, and the Human Rights Center is closely monitoring it.

Phone booths in the N5 women’s prison are located in the yard in the open air, and do not always function properly. Women prisoners therefore have to make phone calls under difficult conditions, and are unable to fully enjoy their right to call their family members. Mail is subject to censorship by the prison administration apart from communication sent by lawyers.

The Human Rights Center (HRC) has spent many years working on pardon cases and highlights a number of problems.

Prisoner pardons are to be recommended by the Pardon Commission and pronounced by the President. There are instances where the President chooses not to issue the pardon despite the recommendation. In other instances, the Pardon Commission members unanimously choose not to pardon a petitioner, but the President pardons him. Unlike the commission, the president is not bound to specific critera and does not have to consult with the commission prior to issuing a pardon.

An orthodox clergyman is a member of the Pardon Commission but no other religious groups are represented. The principle of equality is not respected. The Public Defender is authorized to apply in writing to the President and/or Prime Minister of Georgia to request a pardon. Between 2013-15, the Public Defender of Georgia used this authority only twice.

Under certain circumstances (Article 40 of the Code on Imprisonment), prisoners have the right to early release. The HRC has worked on several cases where local councils refused prisoners early release, among them the cases of M.T and G. J serving their terms in the prisons # 12 and #15. The councils held that the prisoners had committed grave or especially grave crimes. Declining the early-release applications of the prisoners for this is a violation of Article 13 of the resolution, which requires other factors be taken into consideration, including time served and prisoner behavior whilst serving. With the support of HRC, M.T has had the local council refusal for early release overturned on appeal by the Tbilisi City Court. G.T has an appeal pending.

A copy of the prison rules is given to each new inmate.

The HRC provides legal assistance to prisoners. Applications come from all penitentiaries over Georgia. Throughout 2015, most came from N3 in Batumi but also from N8, N15, N17 and N6. The requests mainly concerned improper treatment by prison staff, including psychological abuse, hard living conditions within the prisons and access to timely medical care.

HRC provides free legal assistance to women and juvenile prisoners on human rights matters, as there is no legal support in those facilities. Assistance in preparing documents, complaints or statements is usually given by social workers, who do not have legal skills.

Two other NGOs provide legal assistance for prisoners, Article 42 of Constitution and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association.

Georgia ratified the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2005, and designated the Public Defender’s Office as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) through amendments to an original law in July 2009.

An NPM Unit was created in 2013 within the Public Defender’s Office, assisted by the Special Preventive Group composed of independent experts drawn from civil society advised by a special Advisory Council. The Public Defender publishes an annual report on its activities as the NPM. The HRC considers the NPM as independent.

On May 1st 2015, amendments were adopted in the Prison Code, which will allow the Public Defender of Georgia and members of the Special Preventive Group to take pictures while monitoring. From September 1st 2016, photos of prisoners will be authorised if consent is given, as well as photos of cells, yards, medical units, catering facilities, bathrooms, and visitation rooms.

The NPM Unit still does not have the right to access classified information or CCTV recordings relating to the treatment of prisoners. Also, it does not have access to the decisions justifying transfers of prisoners from one facility to another, which seems to be an increasing practice hindering the ability of prisoners to maintain family ties and contact with lawyers.

##Public Defender of Georgia, Tbilisi Office:   
6 Nino Ramishvili Street, Tbilisi 0179 - Georgia
Tel.: +99532 2234499 / 2913814 / 2913815 / 2913841 / 2913842 / 2913843 / 2913875 / 2913876 / 2913877
Fax: +99532 2913841
Email: [email protected]   

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