Vadym Chovgan. Pardon was granted by the President to 363 prisoners with military experience for them to fight against the Russian occupants. Life-sentenced prisoners do not appear to be eligible, although according to the law, they could be. The subject is controversial. Many more prisoners could be released, especially those held in social rehabilitation units who can go out to work during the day and come back in the evening. However, they are needed as workforce, so there is a balance to be found. Many prisoners are also applying for conditional release, but the current situation and the problems of corruption prevent the courts from functioning normally. Everything takes much longer.
Evacuations did not start on the first day of war. They were delayed and have only recently begun. The Ukrainian Minister of Justice recently said in an interview that prisoners are not the first to be thought of when an evacuation starts, and that the general population should be the first to be evacuated. But it must be taken into account that these are free to leave on their own, while prisoners cannot. The Minister of Justice also explained that the delay in the evacuation process was due to the difficulty of knowing which regions would be attacked. There is a specific regulation on how evacuations and transfers should be carried out. It has been difficult to implement because it is done by railway. This has been an issue in our transfer system for some time, and it is exacerbated by the war. The railway network goes through certain pre-trial detention centres, and it is very difficult to coordinate. It would be different with buses for example.
Oleg Tsvilyi. An incident occurred recently during the evacuation of Prison No. 88 in Tokmak, in the Zaporizhzhia region. Prisoners were taken to Prison No. 6, in the Kirovohrad region, where they were beaten massively upon arrival, apparently by Ukrainian national guards. An investigation has been opened and shows that the prison authorities appear to be involved as well. Photos of this incident have been shared widely. It seems that prisoners who complained were forced to withdraw their complaint. Those who did not were transferred to the region closest to the hostilities, in the Mykolaiv region.
Vadym Chovgan. The Civil Society Council at the Ministry of Justice have recently talked about the need for clear instructions on how the prison administration should act in the event of a bombing. Should they release prisoners, or should keep them in prison, no matter the danger? And what are the consequences of an escape? From my point of view, prisoners should not be punished if they escape in such a situation. This should be clearly stated in regulations. The “necessary defence” clause in the Criminal Code already provides that in order to protect a better interest, you can commit a crime that would not be considered as such. This clause should be applicable in this context and explained to prisoners. Currently, the only thing that is legalised by the state of war is killing Russian soldiers. If prisoners do not return to their social rehabilitation unit at night, even if there is a bombing going on, this is considered to be an evasion. This should not be the case. It is therefore necessary to clarify when prisoners can lawfully escape, especially from the social rehabilitation annexes. Urgent laws and regulations should be passed, and they are not. The Minister does not want to take the responsibility of allowing the release of prisoners. The prison administration does not want to take this responsibility on the ground. Even in the controlled territories, the prisons are left on their own. The general administration of the Kherson region even addressed the President’s office recently, asking: “How do you see us operating while we are under occupation and without funding?”