Carceri sovraffollate e pochi i fondi per la costruzione di nuove strutture. Il Governo temporeggia sulla richiesta di molti detenuti albanesi in Grecia ed Italia di scontare la pena nel proprio Paese. Un articolo dal nostro corrispondente Llazar Semini.
Ali Kosturi, 80, died in prison of natural death. Arrested two years ago after killing his wife and daughter-in-law, he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, basically life imprisonment. He died peacefully in the prison hospital in Tirana.
Meanwhile tens of people queue every day in front of the pre-penitentiary 313 prison in Tirana waiting to bring some food to their close relatives. Many others go to meet their relatives or friends in other prisons. Albania is still hoping to build new prisons to be able to solve the internal problems of overcrowding, let alone addressing the issue of the Albanians detained abroad.
A new prison has recently been inaugurated in Rrogozhine town, but that was not enough to bring their brethren from Greece, Italy and other countries. Detained Albanians in neighbouring Greece have continuously protested and complained about the lack of care of the government, asking to serve their prison term in their country.
Life in post-communist Albania has not been that easy for many people and in many sectors. This situation implied that the renewal of the penitentiary system was not always the biggest priority.
"Overcrowding is naturally a great cause of concern for our administration," acknowledges Migena Leskoviku, spokeswoman of the prison department at the Justice Ministry. It is an increasing problem and it is clear from various cases of death and suicides that happened in the Albanian prisons. For example, a detained person died in the hands of a policeman who was not able to assist him, as last January in the police station of Southern Lushnje, where Bedri Serjani, 41, who was waiting for the final verdict from the Supreme Court hardly reached the town's hospital after a heart attack.
The "Albanian Human Rights Group" (AHRG) - established on September 1996 by Elsa Ballauri, an Albanian poet and journalist - recently complained about the suicide of Angjelin Doda in the prison of Vaqarr, in Tirana. "Angjelin Doda was kept at the isolation room because of the overcrowding of this re-education institution sheltering 204 imprisoned, when its capacity is 130," says its press release of March 21, 2002.
Albania has eight prisons and a prison hospital. Four of them are in Tirana and the hospital, one in Lushnje, one in southern Tepelene and one in northern Burrel. A new one was recently inaugurated in Rrogozhine increasing the capacity to 1,543. "At the moment there are 1,733 persons, either serving prison terms or still waiting for a trial, 41 are women. "No need to comment on that," adds Migena Leskoviku. "We are gradually filling Rrogozhine capacity which for a while alleviated the situation of overcrowding.""Overcrowding leads to violations of the rights, influences negatively the hygienic, sanitary, economical and social conditions," complains the "Albanian Helsinki Committee" (AHC). In many cases cells shelter more than four imprisoned individuals which is not "a treatment in accordance to European standards". "We've been monitoring the situation for 3 years and we have constantly informed the government about this critical situation," says AHC executive director Vasilika Hysi.
The prison department is eagerly waiting for the completion of the new prison in the central Albanian town of Peqin - a project financed by the Italian government - hoping to shelter between 300-350 there, before August. The complete renewal of the Institute of Mental Health in northern Kruje will also be of great help.
Living conditions, hygiene, medical care, accommodation, and food have improved but prisons still lack many things. Investments are needed and the annual government budget of nearly one billion lek, about $7 million (which already covers many expenses, from the staff salaries to the detainees' per diem) is not sufficient to tackle all the problems. For instance, there is a food ratio of 1,900 calories a day per each person but the quality of the food is not good. The prison department complained to the ministry about the food ratio.
Moreover, the government would like to have more cooperation and, of course, money and investments, from NGOs and other institutions for the "employment" of the people convicted. They are making great efforts to find private companies which require workers. "That, first of all, needs to sensitise the public opinion here," says Migena Leskoviku. "A few efforts have been made with detained women and in total we may say there are 227 prisoners employed in the prisons' maintenance system, a very small figure." Many prisoners lack a proper education. "We would like to start literacy courses, social and cultural activities, to introduce more books, PC training courses, and psychological support for the prisoners. These are some of the aspects we are working on," said the spokeswoman of the prison department at the Justice Ministry.
Sentences for murder are the main reason for charge in the prisons, followed by theft, drug traffic, rape, injury, etc. There are 671 people sentenced for murder. "How can these sentences be carried out in our overcrowded prisons?" asks the AHC indignantly. "There are cases in which prisoners are for a relatively long time in pre-dentition cells."
The predominant age group ranges between 25-45, though there are many people who are over 60. But among them there are also 12 teenagers from 14 to 18 years old. Teenagers stay in the prison of Vaqarr in Tirana completely separated from the rest of the group and there they normally have a special, more liberal regime, with the possibility to have more contacts with their families.
Human right groups in the country do not totally agree with that. They criticize various aspects of the detention procedure of under-aged, right from the beginning of their detention when they seem not to be communicated their rights.
The AHRG, mentions another event that happened in the prison of Vaqarr, where ten teenagers were supposedly kept in a single room and were not kept apart from the rest of the prisoners, and were not supplied with water. They report that many of them appealed for release, but never got an answer.
Both human rights groups, AHC and AHRG, ask for the creation of a special court for under-age. They ask for better infrastructure conditions in the prisons and a further training of the prison personnel.
Lack of capacity has caused the Albanian Government to continuously postpone the transferral of the hundreds of Albanian detainees kept in Greece or Italy. About 25-30 of them were extradited to their homeland in 2001, more are expected this year. "The minister has decided that no decision to repatriate Albanian detained abroad can be considered, until the Peqin and Rrogozhine prisons become operational" said Arben Brace, Justice Ministry Head of Foreign Relations. "Besides, bureaucratic procedures between countries are long in such cases," adds Migena Leskoviku.
Finally, the spokeswoman says that the Lezhe prison renewal, funded by the European Union, would be a real help, as it would provide room for 750-800 persons. "We are eagerly waiting to receive the last part of the promised funding," she said, but hardly mentioning any date when it would start operating.