Macedonia advances prison reform


The government has invested 52 million euros in construction and renovation of jails.

By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 24/01/13


Macedonia’s biggest prison in Idrizovo near Skopje is in the process of being expanded and renovated. [AFP]

Macedonia is taking measures to improve conditions in its jails per recommendations of the Council of Europe, but needs to introduce additional and more radical measures to achieve the desired results, according to experts.

A delegation of the council's Committee for Prevention of Torture visited Macedonia in November 2011 to inspect the country's correctional institutions, and published its report complete with recommendations last month.

The report cited small cells, poor living conditions and inmate violence as the main problems in Macedonia's prisons.

"As a result of lack of staff, stronger inmates effectively rule many parts of the prison, and there is a general culture of violence," Jim McManus, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, told SETimes.

"Drugs are a major issue in the prison and are readily available," he added.

In response to the findings, the Macedonian government said it has so far invested 52 million euros to reconstruct existing jails and build new ones.

"We are expecting an especially big improvement once the building activities in the Kumanovo prison are finished. Also, we have started reconstruction and building in Idrizovo prison," Justice Minister Blerim Bedzeti told SETimes.

Idrizovo is Macedonia's biggest penitentiary, employing 220 guards and housing more than 1,200 prisoners, nearly half of the country's prison population.

The government said it will transfer 200 prisoners from Idrizovo to the new Kumanovo prison once the latter becomes operational this spring.

"This will also reduce the number of prisoners in Idrizovo and will fully solve the overcrowding problem," the government said in a response to the report.

The committee provides its reports to governments prior to their publication; the governments provide answers which are attached to the report.

Macedonian authorities wrote that they have organised special training for all prison management under the Middle Management of Prisons project, in co-operation with the Embassy of the Netherlands.

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"Taking into account the insufficient numbers of prison staff, appropriate measures have [also] been taken to ensure more efficient deployment of security personnel ... increase the number of staff in the day shift and rationalise available staff," it said.

The committee experts acknowledge Macedonia's efforts, but recommend more radical changes if the remedies to the correctional system's weaknesses are to succeed.

"While some steps have been taken to establish a probation system, there is also a need urgently to address the level of the prison population by creating a variety of alternatives to imprisonment," McManus said.

SETimes correspondent Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest contributed to this article.

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