Date of the report
Author(s)Civil Society for the Penal System (CISST) / Other confidential sources

The penitentiary system

Organisation of the penitentiary system

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses (Ceza ve tevkifevleri genel müdürlüğü, in Turkish) depend on the Ministry of Justice.

In 2016, the Ministry of Justice budget represented 1.7% of the budget of Turkey. The ministry allocates 32% of its budget toward prison administration, over 3.4 billion Turkish lira (about 723 million euros) which is divided as follows:

  • 94.2% for prison buildings
  • 5.3% for integration and probation supervision
  • 0.4% for the central branch of the prison administration

The prison administration is divided into two sections: central and regional. The central branch is located in the capital, Ankara, and is made up of the following departments:

  • Sentencing department
  • Personnel department
  • International relations department
  • Education department
  • Communications and health services department
  • Chairmanship of the board of controllers

The regional branch includes prison buildings, integration and probation supervision, and training centres for prison personnel.

The classification system in prisons is based on the letters of the alphabet. These classifications follow multiple criteria such as the architecture of the buildings, their capacity, or their security. Notably:

  • Type M prisons are built with two floors. Their cells hold 4 - 10 people. Each has an outside courtyard.
  • Type L prisons have replaced the older prisons. They're built close in proximity to large cities and can hold up to a few thousand prisoners.
  • Type D and F prisons (two and fourteen respectively) are high-security buildings. The prisoners are subject to extremely strict and dehumanizing isolation.
  • Type K prisons are for minors.

The management of the institutions is shared between both the Administrative Control Board and the prison directors. Presently, the structure of decision making does not allow the Administrative Control Board to oversee the smooth operation of the penitentiary system. Primary decision making power is given to the directors of the institutions.

The Turkish government has taken steps to improve detention conditions, since 2004, in order to join the European Union; this included the abolition of death sentences on May 7, 2004, and the reform of the Penal Code to criminalize acts of torture.
Prisons are gradually opening their doors to associations and researchers. Prison administration and its personnel are becoming more respectful of human rights. The reforms also call for new, more modern penitentiary institutions.

Nevertheless, the reform process for the prison system has progressively been put on the back burner and, as of 2015, security policies have strengthened. As a result, civil society organizations and university researchers have been denied access to prisons. A coup attempt took place in July 2016. A state of emergency was declared soon after, which has bolstered security policies and worsened holding conditions.

As of November 2017 there were 384 prisons1:

  • 290 closed facilities, eight of which are for women
  • 71 open facilities, five of which are for women (seven according to the prison administration)
  • 16 high security facilities: 14 type F and two type D
  • 7 closed facilities for minors

According to a 2016 report from prison administration, overall capacity has risen to 190,861. Most institutions have specific units for women and minors. There are also three education centres dedicated to children between the ages of 12 and 16. Two “type R” prisons accept prisoners with grave illnesses.
Open prisons hold those sentenced to three years or less. Prisoners may be transferred from closed to open facilities once they have completed at least two-thirds of their sentences and have shown proof of good behaviour. Open prisons only accept individuals that are able-bodied enough to work.

High security institutions, including type D and F, were modeled after American “supermax” prisons and were introduced to the Turkish penitentiary estate in 2000. These institutions have cells that can hold between one and three prisoners. They imposed a social isolation rule and occasionally sensory isolation to varying degrees. Type D and F prisons are nicknamed “the tombs”2.

The government hopes to expand its penitentiary estate in a considerable and unsettling manner. Known for their “family feel”3, older prisons that were situated in smaller cities have been closed in favour of dehumanizing mega-prisons. These are generally located on the outskirts of large cities and are often not easily accessible by public transportation. Newer constructions sites sometimes have multiple buildings, truly making them “penitentiary campuses”. Opened in 2008, the Silivri prison houses 17,000 prisoners in nine facilities. It is considered the largest penitentiary institution in Europe.

On August 29, 2017, State-Secretary Kenan İpek shared that they were building 50 prisons meant to hold people associated with the Gülen movement.

According to the militant site Turkey Purge, the Turkish government expects to build 228 new institutions in the next five years. The capacity would increase to 137,687 prisoners.

The government expects to allocate 5.5 billion Turkish liras towards the building of 39 new prisons. The entire budget for the Ministry of Justice is 13.7 billion for the 2018 fiscal year.

  1. The Union of Turkish Bar Association (Türkiye Barolar Birliği), Report 2016/2017 regarding human rights (available in Turkish). 

  2. "Prison de type F, qu’est-ce que c’est ?" in Kedistan, May 2017. 

  3. IpekMerçil, "La transformation des prisons et les conditions de détention en Turquie", December 2016. 

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses handles the prison staff. The police provide transfers to hospitals and courts.

As of 2016, there were 52,610 staff members at the regional branch of the prison administration (88% men and 12% women) among them:

  • 1,052 directors
  • 37,604 guards (and 2,580 under contract)
  • 1,100 registrars
  • 84 integration and probation service directors
  • 675 psychologists
  • 652 teachers
  • 425 sociologist
  • 249 social workers
  • 10 doctors
  • 471 health care staff (as well as 207 under contract)
  • 3 dentists
  • 3 nutritionists

Due to the growing prison population, guards are outnumbered. Their recruitment requires neither qualification nor skill.

Prison directors and guards are required to undergo training before assuming their duties. This requirement started being enforced in 2010. Theoretical prior training lasts five months. Some applicants have internship opportunities where they can apply their skills through field training, under the supervision of the trainers. This initial training has been thought to be insufficient, as it doesn’t prepare future guards for the realities of the job.  

Staff also receive continuous training through courses and themed seminars. In 2016, continuous training was held for 9,111 staff members. The following are some of the titles of the 2016 trainings: “Human rights”, “Communication”, “Negative effects of emotions and combating stress”, “To lead and be lead”, “Delinquency and the delinquent”, “Ethics”, “Be a good role model”, “Penitentiary law”, “Anger management”, “Intervention strategies and techniques”, “Information on prohibited objects and narcotics”, “Fight against escape”, and “Restraints and emergency situations”.

The understaffed social workers are not trained to work specifically in prisons. The guards provide social work missions.

Between 2014 and 2017, the Turkish prison administration participated in the IDECOM (Innovation, Development and Communication for a better Education in Prison Systems) project along with Romania, Portugal, the Maldives, and EuroPris. Its goal is to improve the prison staff’s professional training.

After the coup attempt

In September 2016, Al Jazeera reported that 1,500 members of the penitentiary personnel accused of supporting the Gülen movement were suspended.
In September 2017, the president of the Turkish Foundation of Human Rights reported that guards who refused orders to torture were being threatened with incarceration.