Steps are being taken throughout the region to improve prison management and increase security.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 29/11/12
Many prisons have failed to effectively oversee prisoners due to overcrowding, leading to escapes. [AFP]
Governments in the region are increasing security at prisons due to the number of escapes and illegal activities happening inside the facilities. In order to make progress, however, the main obstacle of prison overcrowding must be overcome by unburdening the existing correctional facilities and building new ones, experts said.
Three prisoners suspected of terrorism escaped this month from Dubrava, the biggest jail in Kosovo, and another from the jail in Prizren in August, bringing to light the overcrowding that poses a challenge to effectively overseeing inmates.
Overcrowding is a source of most of the security concerns of jail administrators, confirmed Milan Radovic, member of Montenegro's Civic Alliance, a local NGO.
"There are frequent cases of attacks by prisoners and prison guards. The new administration has started suspending officers blamed for violations against prisoners," Radovic told SETimes.
In Albania, prison escapes have become so frequent that authorities recently fired the directors of the Tirana and Peqin prisons.
Overcrowding is one of the three main challenges of managing prisons in Serbia, together with understaffing and lack of finances.
There are more than 11,000 prisoners in Serbia's prisons, which were designed to house 7,500 inmates.
Serbia is implementing a short-term solution to the three challenges by adopting this month a new amnesty law, which would provide greater leeway for the least severe criminal offences.
At the same time, a new high-security prison in Padinska Skela, which houses 450 inmates, was completed last year, and the government has upgraded surveillance systems in several prisons.
Similarly, Macedonia is adding 11 new buildings to the country's main Idrizovo prison, which will nearly double the current capacity to house 800 inmates. Currently, there are 2,500 prisoners in Macedonia and 500 detainees.
Macedonian corrections authorities have begun a proactive approach to prisoner re-socialisation. They are developing "semi-open" small prisons like the one in Bitola, housing 90 prisoners and 50 detainees, which solve the problem of escapes by keeping occupants engaged and productive, including offering the opportunity to work -- particularly in agriculture at nearby farms -- and study.
"It all depends how you organise the work. You can not have more than five prisoners in a room and every one must have nine cubic meters of air to be able to function in a cell. Women and minors must be separated. All must be guaranteed health care," Slavko Gacovski, director of the Correctional Facility in Bitola, said.
In Kosovo, as a preventive measure in the Dubrava jail, prison management increased the number of observation towers, as well as the number of armed prison guards, and installed two sets of cameras.
There are more than 1,800 prisoners in Kosovo in facilities built to hold less than 1,200, and the number of convicts is growing.
Prison management is made more complex due to technical advancements used by prisoners and corruption among prison guards, according to Sokol Zogaj, director general for security at the Kosovo corrections service.
"There are cases of … prison guards involved in contraband, drugs and other dealings with prisoners," Zogaj told SETimes.
Kosovo is constructing a new high-security prison near Podujevo for the most violent convicts. It will house 300 prisoners and will begin operating in August 2013.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are nearly 1,800 prisoners, including those who serve their sentences at home under electronic bracelet monitoring, but 859 convicted individuals are waiting to become inmates when cells open.
"The biggest problem is imprisoning those who committed crimes and are psychologically unbalanced. The problem will be solved once the Institute for Forensic Psychology in Sokoc begins to work," Zoran Mikulic, BiH minister of justice, told SETimes.