Until recently, overcrowding was one of the key challenges faced by Georgia’s prison system, with a steady rise in the number or prisoners since 2004 when a “zero tolerance” policy on crime was adopted.
In January 2012, with a prison population of 23,469 and an imprisonment rate of 521.8 per 100,000, Georgia had one of the highest imprisonment rates worldwide.
Following a prisoner abuse scandal in September 2012 and the election of a new government in October 2012, a process of reform was initiated. As a first step on 12 January 2013, an amnesty law was signed, which paved the way for the release of some 3,000 prisoners, and for reduced sentences for more than 10,000 others [^1].
In 2013, the number of prisoners was reduced to 7,638 before rising again 10,525 prisoners in 2015. This increase over the past two years was due to a lack of rehabilitation and socialization programs for prisoners after release. Former prisoners experience unemployment and poor living conditions, leading to high rates of recidivism.
The correctional facility N5 in Rustavi is the sole women only prison in Georgia. A joint monitoring visit of this facility with the National Preventive Mechanism Unit took place in February and May 2015. Female prisoners are also placed in the Kutaisi N2 and Batumi N3 penitentiary facilities.
Women complain about humiliating full examinations, which take place when entering the prison, leaving the prison temporarily and returning (Order 97 of the Minister). During these full examinations, prisoners must take off clothes or uncover certain parts of their body. According to the Bangkok rules (19), women prisoner’s dignity and respect should be ensured during personal searches.
Women prisoners in N5 receive prenatal care, and can keep their children with them until they are three years old. This prison has a residential division for mothers and children, with 12 rooms and one common play room for children. In May 2015, there were six prisoners held in this division, of which one was pregnant. Women prisoners have requested to the prison administration more grocery products for children, as well as fruits and vegetables in the prison store. They also asked to increase the number of parcels allowed for children.
Women cannot in 2015 benefit from conjugal visits despite these being guaranteed by the imprisonment code (see Family Visits).
At the time of the HRC monitoring in 2015, two juvenile female prisoners in N5 were not separated from adults. This is contrary to the Mandela rules.
On the 12 June 2015, the Georgian Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice Code. The aim of the code is to liberalize the justice system and strengthen restorative justice principles in relation to juveniles. This code was welcomed by NGOs.
In Georgia, there is a juvenile rehabilitation facility in Tbilisi N11, and a juvenile department in Gldani prison N8 and in Kutaisi prison N2. The minimum age for juvenile incarceration is 14. Juvenile remand prisoners and those waiting for their official verdict are held in prison N8 of Gldani. On the 14 July 2015, there were 11 prisoners. Juvenile prisoners are separated from adults in the prison but not while being escorted to the tribunal, since there is only one car and one escort.
The Human Rights Centre (HRC) calls on the Ministry of Corrections to allocate additional psychologist and social workers for prison N8, as well as to roll out art and educational programs. In 2015, the HRC monitored the N11 prison four times as part of joint visits with the NPM Unit of the Public Defender’s office.
According to the law, prisoners of N11 have the right to short visits and phone calls, as well as long visits and video calls upon payment of fees, a practice criticized by the HRC. There are two furnished rooms in the facility for long visits. Juvenile prisoners rarely meet with family members because of poor social conditions and transportation costs.
Juvenile prisoners play rugby and football on a playground twice a week. They have carpentry lessons three times a week where they learn to make crosses and models of churches. The administration planned to open a group class for enamel work during the school vacation.
Musical instruments are available and musicians are regularly invited to teach the prisoners how to play. Juvenile prisoners can also learn computer programs and have the right to play computer games.
An Orthodox Church is located in the yard of the N11 but no priest has been allocated to it yet.
Despite the social and cultural activities offered in the facility N11, there are many cases of antisocial behaviour. Juvenile prisoners find it difficult to speak about prison conditions and problems. More intensive work with psychologists and specialists is needed to improve the mental wellbeing of juvenile prisoners.
Juveniles serving sentences for sex crimes are socially isolated from other prisoners who do not wish to have contact with them.
Prisoners have the right to be informed about charges in language they can understand. According to the Human Rights Centre, the majority of foreign prisoners in the women’s prison N5 lack information regarding court hearings, because there are no qualified interpreters. Also, social workers lack knowledge of Russian and English in N5, and therefore cannot provide appropriate assistance to foreign prisoners.
Russian speaking prisoners in prison N5 complain about the lack of Russian channels on TV. According to the Ministry of Corrections, a transfer to digital broadcasting will increase number of TV channels.
In the juvenile facility N11, only a few books are available in foreign languages in the library and none in Azerbaijani. Ethnic Azerbaijanis do not have access to literature in their own language, and do not receive an individual school program.
Foreigners are mainly charged for drugs, theft, and burglary. The main nationalities are Turkish, Azerbaijanis, Armenians and Iranians.
There is no major sexual, ethnic or religious discrimination against the prisoners in prison N5. However, several prisoners have complained about pressure from some inmates following Orthodox religious customs. After these complaints, the prisoners (who are not religious) were transferred to other cells by the administration.
Sexual orientation is a taboo in Georgian society. Specialists should be trained to address this issue while monitoring detention facilities. LGBTI persons should be able to speak out with confidence when facing problems.
Former political prisoners convicted of espionage and prisoners with alleged arbitrary sentences still have top-secret status. The establishment of a commission for identifying any miscarriages of justice was rescheduled indefinitely.
Yuri Vazagashvili, was killed at his son’s grave on January 20, 2015 in the village of Karafila. He was attending the funeral of a relative. Explosives were installed in the cemetery, which exploded when Yuri Vazagashvili stepped on them. A police official was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Besik Khardziani, a businessman, was killed near his house in Tbilisi on March 28, 2015. In 2011, Khardziani had been sentenced to eight years in prison for the illegal manufacturing and possession of narcotics. He spent two years in prison but denied the accusations. The president pardoned him in 2014. After his release, Khardziani accused former senior government officials of initiating his arrest. He claimed his imprisonment was arbitrary and the conditions of imprisonment inhumane. At the time of his death, Khardziani was fighting a court case to regain control of assets lost as a result of his arrest.
The elderly are not held in separate facilities.
There are provisions to release elderly prisoners who meet specific criteria including having served more than half their sentence and reached the age of 70.
The Human Rights Center provided legal assistance to two elderly women convicts in prison N5 (T.J and V.B), who met the legal criteria for release (sections 11 and 12 of the article 4 of the order N/181/N01‐72/N). The joint commission refused to release them without providing specific reasons for the decision, although the prison administration believes the women should be released, with the health of both women deteriorating.
Most prisoners with disabilities are located in N18, N19, N15, N8, and N17 penitentiary institutions.
Prison infrastructure is not adapted to the needs of disabled persons, e.g. there is not wheelchair access. Even accessing courts and lawyers’ offices can be difficult.
In prison N19 and N8, inmates are asked to accompany prisoners with wheelchairs to lawyers’ offices. Prison staff are not trained to take special care of prisoners with disabilities, even though some prisoners cannot dress, bathe, eat or go to the toilet independently. Blind prisoners cannot get information in Braille.
Recommendations of the Public Defender (NMP) on these issues are not yet fully implemented.