In October 2017, the Turkish prison population was estimated, at 229,790 (+17% compared to October 2016). On this date, the rate of imprisonment was 285 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants.
Significant growth in prison population has lead to more repressive penal legislation. A reform of the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedures Code, and the Penal Application Code took place in 2005. These reforms have:
- Lengthened sentences.
- Extended the minimum length of detention before being able to claim conditional release (from half to two thirds of the sentence for common law prisoners).
- Introduced full life sentences for the first time. In 2005 the prison population stood at 54,296. The rate of imprisonment was 75.8. In 2015 the number of prisoners was 173,522, with a rate of imprisonment of 220.41.
In August 2016, the government announced the expected release, under judicial control, of 38,000 common law prisoners. Civil society and the international community questioned the motivation for this step. A journalist from the daily newspaper Le Figaro confirmed that "the government was looking to ease overcrowding so that they could lock up the thousands of people arrested during the purges following the attempted coup".
In October 2017, prisoners awaiting trial represented 38.8% of the prison population (88,745).
In August 2017, the maximum duration of pre-trial imprisonment increased, from five to seven years.
The appeal proceedings are dealt with by the second criminal high court. The duration of these proceedings is often long and the number of prisoners awaiting a decision by the court of appeal (called hükümözlü) is high.
In October 2017, prisons could hold 207,339 prisoners. The occupancy rate was 111%. Prison density varies from one establishment to the next and often within the same prison. A cell designed for three or four prisoners can accommodate up to eight. Some sleep on mattresses on the floor. In 2017, 60 people in Tarsus prison were housed in a cell designed for 26. In the same year, Kirklareli prison accommodated 1,000 prisoners in a space with capacity for 500.
Before the attempted coup d'état, the prison population was primarily male, approximately 96%. It was also made up predominantly of young people: 68% of prisoners were between 18 and 39 years of age. Their level of education was low. In 2016, 1% of prisoners had completed basic education, according to the Turkish lnstitute of Statistics 2.
There were 9,985 female prisoners in October 2017, 4.4% of the prison population. Women and men are in separate confinement.
Eight closed and five open prison facilities are exclusively reserved for women, while some prisons have specifically designated areas. Women have limited access to services and training in the facilities which also accommodate men.
Some establishments for women are overcrowded. In Tarsus prison in 2017, 70 women were held in a cell designed for 17, according to a report by Platform for Peace and Justice (PPJ).
Before the declaration of the state of emergency in July 2016, women could not be placed in type F prisons, (high security prisons)1 except for when serving an aggravated life sentence.
The surveillance officers in contact with female prisoners were all women. Police officers, who are mainly men, are in charge of transfers from court or hospital. Doctors ask for the police officers to be present during consultations. The doctors in contact with female prisoners can be either men or women. The fact that some gynaecologists are men can be problematic.
Many pregnant women or women who have recently given birth have been arrested and/or imprisoned, according to a report by the Foundation of Journalists and Writers 2017.
Aysun Aydemir gave birth to her baby on 12 May 2017. She was detained just after having given birth by Caesarean section, despite having difficulty walking. She was then detained with her three-day-old child in pre-trial detention in the province of Zonguldak. On 31 March 2017, Sezgin Tanrikulu, an opposition MP, challenged the Prime Minister over the case of a woman who gave birth alone in a police station in Ankara.
The conditions for pregnant women are particularly challenging. Prenatal care is not always adequately provided.
Şule Gümüşoluk, who was detained in Kayseri prison when she was eight and a half months' pregnant, was kept in prison during childbirth due to a court order in May 2017. This decision was made in spite of the risk of a difficult childbirth.
Children can stay with their mothers up until the age of six. It is now quite often the case that both parents are imprisoned.
- 149 under one year old
- 140 one-year-olds
- 124 two-year-olds
- 117 three-year-olds
- 77 four-year-olds
- 44 five-year-olds
- 6 six-year-olds
- 11 children were of unknown age3
The administration does not provide suitable food for children or extra mattresses for them. They have to share their mothers' beds. Toys are not allowed in cells.
Because of their isolation from family, foreign female prisoners have particular difficulties meeting their own needs and those of their children. Sometimes the children grow up without ever having left prison.
The children have access to childcare centres inside the prisons. The mothers are not permitted to go into them, nor are they allowed to speak to any staff in charge of their children. Often other female prisoners do not want children to be present in their areas.
Platform for Peace and Justice, "A comprehensive report on the prison conditions in Turkey - In Prison 2017", p. 6. ↩
Platform for Peace and Justice, "A comprehensive report on the prison conditions in Turkey - In Prison 2017", p. 2. ↩
Number of specific institutions for women
The age of criminal liability is set at 12 years old. The Ministry of Justice is in charge of justice for minors.
In April 2017 there were 2,800 minors in prison. 63.5% of these children were awaiting trial. Girls account for 3.2% of children in prison. There is only one prison for convicted girls. They are routinely placed with women when they are awaiting trial.
Minors are generally placed in common cells. They can be housed in:
- Education centres
- Prisons for minors, of which seven exist.
- Special areas inside adult prisons
On 1 August 2017, nearly 50% of imprisoned children were in areas designated for minors within adult establishments. Prisons for minors are over-populated and very few in number. Young people are often placed in prisons for adults so that they are near their families.
Approximately 7% (197 children) are imprisoned for acts relating to terrorism.
On 1 August 2017 approximately 39% of children had access to education:
- 111 received lessons in basic literacy (4%)
- 62 received lessons in high school literacy (2%)
- 187 were enrolled in junior high school distance learning courses (7%)
- 495 were enrolled in high school distance learning courses (18%)
- 219 were receiving regular education (8%)
- One was studying at university
Since the establishment of the state of emergency, the authorities have banned children accused of terrorism from following school curricula. They are not authorized to take academic examinations. As of 1 August 2017, approximately 2% of these children participate in a formal educational programme, while 16.7% have access to informal schooling.
Six children died in prison between November 2015 and June 2017: five in a fire and one from suicide.
The prison conditions are inadequate for children. The food rations are insufficient and of poor quality. The staff mistreats the children. Between November 2015 and June 2017, at least 133 children lodged 203 complaints including 111 for torture and ill-treatment. The majority of the complaints concern the prison for minors, Sincan.
Number of specific institutions for juveniles/minors
There were 5,932 foreign prisoners in November 2017; 2,292 were Syrian.
Foreigners encounter difficulties from the time they are arrested. Access to translators is usually problematic. Consular or diplomatic support varies according to the country of origin of those arrested and/or imprisoned. In the majority of cases the rules and regulations of the prison arenot translated.
Foreigner prisoners are often grouped together in cells or specific prison areas.
The majority of the guards and health professionals do not speak other languages; English is notably lacking. Foreigners can sign up for courses to learn Turkish if they wish.
Some prisons accommodate a large number of foreigners. The type L prison in Maltepe houses 1,582, representing a total of 97 nationalities. Networks of mutual aid have been set up. The prison management has paid particular attention to granting certain rights, such as access to interpreters and maintaining links with family.
International calls are very expensive. To call a Turkish number, one telephone card is usually needed while four are needed to phone abroad.
Mail in foreign languages typically is not actually sent. The officers in charge of processing the mail have no control over this.
Close relatives of foreign prisoners are faced with a huge amount of red tape in order to obtain a visiting permit. Many official documents are required for this process and must be translated.
High extradition costs are borne by the foreign prisoners. Delays for transferrals are often long.
Foreigner prisoners share the same right to work in prison as the Turks, however they are victims of discrimination. The CISST reported the case of a foreign prisoner who was refused the right to work in the kitchen because he was black.
Books and dictionaries in different languages are available in many prison libraries. However, there is no access to television channels or radio stations in other languages.
As of 2016 there were 137 LGBTIQ prisoners. This statistic only includes trans people placed in distinct cells, and homosexuals requesting to stay with them.
Many people in the LGBTIQ community hide their sexual identities in order to protect themselves from acts of violence either from other prisoners or from prison staff. This results in a lack of accurate information about the LGBTIQ population in Turkish prisons.
LGBTIQ inmates are usually placed either in isolation or in distinct cells to avoid any aggression towards them. This measure is taken particularly for the transgender women being held in men’s prisons. Opportunities for work and other activities are very limited, and in some cases even impossible. Conjugal visits are not allowed for LGBTIQ prisoners.
Once their sexual orientation is discovered, homosexual men are placed either in solitary confinement or with transgender people. Bisexual and homosexual women are placed in distinct quarters once their sexual orientation is known. In certain cases, they are mocked or discriminated against by the heterosexual inmates.
Appointing trans people in specific cells or quarters falls under the jurisdiction of the state. A trans person can only change their civil status once they have had gender reassignment surgery. In order to be placed in a prison or quarters that match the gender they identify with, they must go through gender reassignment surgery in a public hospital. The procedure lasts at least one year. At the Tekirdağ men’s prison, there is an imprisoned trans person who has been awaiting surgery for five years. Diren Coşkun has also been imprisoned at the Tekirdağ men’s prison since 2017. She is currently conducting a hunger strike in protest of her isolation as well as the mistreatments she has experienced with regards to the way staff treat her and her medical needs.
In 2014/2015, the Turkish government planned on dedicating an entire building to LGBTIQ prisoners. The aim, according to the authorities, is to protect them from possible acts of violence. LGBTIQ organizations argue that this arrangement could cause disruption to families because of how far the building would be, and the fact that this project would institutionalize the discrimination of a minority. The authorities have yet to confirm the realization of this project.
In Turkey, men hold blue identity cards while women have orange ones.
Prisoners of conscience
On the night of July 15-16, there was a coup attempt led by a faction of the Turkish armed forces. Members were accused of operating under the orders of preacher Fethullah Gülen. The attempt failed, ending with a death toll of 290.
The Turkish authorities proceeded with massive arrests during the following months. The prisoners were accused of either being affiliated with terrorist groups, of supporting the “Gülen” movement, or of being part of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
Numerous people charged with terrorism were tortured. Certain prisoners of conscience were placed in type F prisons under extreme and dehumanizing isolation. Contact with family members, access to the outdoor courtyard, library, or work were very limited. They were subjected to constant body searches. Conversations with their lawyers were under surveillance.
On October 30, 2017, about 150,000 people were arrested. Around 50,000 individuals were kept in prison, of which 7,500 were military.
From the coup attempt up until March 2017, 13 deputies were imprisoned. As of March 2017, a total of 83 mayors thought to be pro-PKK have been either suspended or arrested.
As of March 2016, there were 6,592 prisoners presumed to be members of the PKK.
Civil society actors are also being targeted. The president of the Turkish branch of Amnesty International, Taner Kiliç, was arrested on June 6, 2017. He has since been imprisoned. The director from the same organization, Idil Eser, was also arrested during training with 11 other civil society organizations in July 2017. She was freed in October 2017.
The authorities also target journalists and lawyers. Investigations on human rights violations are very heavily reprimanded. According to the “Turkey Purge” website, between the coup attempt and February 5, 2018, 319 journalists have been arrested.
According to the Arrested Lawyers’ Initiative, between July 2016 and December 2017, 570 lawyers were arrested, while 1,486 were prosecuted. Seventy of them are serving prison sentences.
Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman, philanthropist, and advocate for intercultural dialogue, was arrested on October 18, 2017 at the Atatürk airport in Istanbul. He had just returned from a meeting held in partnership with the Goethe Institute and the Kurds. He has, since then, been held in prison.
The Turkish government is accusing Fethullah Gülen, currently in exile in the US, of having orchestrated the coup attempt of July 15, as well as the assassination attempt on the Russian ambassador on December 19, 2016.
Since 1984, the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK has led to about 40,000 deaths.
As of April 1, 2016, there are 2,597 people between the ages of 65 and 74. One hundred and thirty-two individuals are over 80 years of age.
Older prisoners will not get early release due to their age. They are not provided with an adequate living environment or necessary adaptive care. At the Silivri prison, prescribed medical treatments are either denied or are provided weeks later.
The sick and the disabled
Type R institutions accommodate prisoners with grave illnesses in need of significant medical assistance. Individuals with disabilities or mental illness are placed in these facilities. As of 2015, there are two buildings:
- Metris in Istanbul
- Menemen in Izmir (west)
Access to care seems guaranteed and the prisoners receive assistance with their daily needs. The quality of care is judged as “corrigible”.
The infrastructures of the other prisons are not adapted. The living conditions are even more difficult for people with disabilities who are dependent on the help of other prisoners. Abuse is constant.
Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST) found that in May 2015 there were no wheelchairs modified to go through metal detecting doors1.
Most prisons in the country have two floors. Individuals with disabilities are placed on the first floor, however most activities, including visits, occur onthe second floor.
Transfer vehicles have also not been modified. As of 2015, only 34 prisons had an ambulance.
Prisoners with disabilities suffer particularly when it comes to difficult access to care (see “Health” section.
For humanitarian reasons, gravely ill prisoners may be granted early release2, however this usually occurs too late. The decisionis made by the attorney general, who can, at their discretion, order prisoners remain incarcerated for public safety reasons. Recently reinforced anti-terrorism measures have led to a rise in the number of gravely ill individuals in prisons. Medical certificates show that in such cases a serious illness is not taken into account.
Regulations foresee the postponement of sentences for those that are sick and “cannot be treated in prison”, as well as those “incapable of taking care of themselves in prison”. To benefit from this, a prisoner must show that their condition is an obvious threat to their life, and they cannot be considered “a danger in terms of public safety”. ↩
Number of specific institutions
Data not disclosed