The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) meeting with the
KRIM-organisation at Hotel Neptun in Copenhagen on February 11th. at 3 pm.

 
 


By Claus Bonnez, Chairman of the KRIM-organisation in Denmark
 

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (“the CPT”) has announced that the committee will visit Denmark and 9 other member-states in 2008.

The CPT has a right to visit institutions, where persons deprived of their liberty by the authorities are held, in all states which are members of the Council of Europe.

The CPT has asked the Danish NGO “KRIM” to meet the CPT at Hotel Neptun in Copenhagen on February 11th  2008 at 3 pm. KRIM is invited to put forward KRIM’s views on the state of affairs in Denmark.

In 1996 KRIM also had the opportunity to meet the CPT on their visit to Denmark. At the meeting in 1996 KRIM told the CPT, that KRIM offered advice and legal assistance to prisoners in prisons and remand houses across Denmark, and that KRIM generally believed that prisoners were treated in a way, which never or very rarely infringed on the rights of the prisoners guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the period between 1996 and 2008 KRIM has gradually reached the conclusion, that prisoners in Danish institutions in several ways are treated in ways which infringe on their human rights. It’s sad to admit that the situation after 2002 in particular has deteriorated.

KRIM is aware of the fact, that the CPT visited Denmark in 2002, and that the CPT has issued a report to the government of Denmark on the visit. In the report Denmark was recommended to introduce a number of changes regarding the way persons deprived of their liberty are treated in Denmark.


KRIM has decided first and foremost to comment on some of the issues which, according to the report, caused the CPT concern on their visit in 2002. Eventually KRIM will point out other issues, which in KRIMs opinion might be of interest to the CPT.

Legal costs in criminal cases
In § 19 the CPT recommends “that police officers be firmly reminded that they should not seek to dissuade detained persons from exercising their right of access to a lawyer. Further, the requirement that the police inform detained persons of their potential liability as regards costs should extend to the fact that the court may decide to limit that liability”.

KRIM is often consulted by persons who claim that as they cannot afford the cost of a lawyer they decide against asking for one. In Denmark it is a well-known fact, that many people who have served a prison sentence are burdened with a big debt, which is due to legal costs. In Denmark there is no access to legal aid in criminal cases. Persons charged with an offence are obliged to repay to the state the costs of having had access to a lawyer during their case. In minor cases it’s not compulsory to be represented in court by a lawyer. A great number of persons appear in court without a lawyer.

The Danish enforcement-authority has decided that persons who owe money to the state have no access to have the debt remitted. There is no statute barrier. This means that a great number of persons are unable to pay their debt possibly for the rest of their lives. Many previously convicted persons tell KRIM, that the reason why they stay away from the job-market after their release from prison is the high debt to the Danish State. They know that as long as they stay on social security they are not asked to repay the money. Only if they venture into a job, will they be contacted by the authorities in order to pay instalments on their debts.

It’s common that social security-recipients owe insurmountable sums to the state. Often a person is asked to reimburse DKK 200.000 – 300.000 after release from prison. They often tell KRIM that for that reason – they decide not to undertake a job. The KRIM-staff often gets the impression that they accept to live on income support and perhaps the revenues from for instance petty crimes KRIM believes that the Danish system might infringe with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See Croysant v. Germany.  

KRIM has the impression that no other country in the world leaves released prisoners to a life with big debts due to legal costs they are unable to repay to the state. It appears that convicted persons in some other countries are also required to pay the costs of their lawyer, but it also appears that in these countries the convicted persons has a chance to have the debts cancelled if they are able to prove that they are unable to pay.

On www.krim.dk there are a number of articles on legal costs in criminal cases (mostly in Danish):

I andre lande forgældes domfældte ikke af sagsomkostninger

Sagsomkostninger fører til, at uskyldige bliver straffet

EMK om sagsomkostninger i Danmark

Remand prisoners access to see a doctor of their own choice
In § 20 “the CPT considers that detained persons should have the right to be examined by a doctor of their own choice in all cases; if it were thought that such a contact could obstruct the investigation, the examination could always take place in the presence of a state-appointed doctor”.

KRIM is in touch with a great number of persons who have been in custody. No prisoners are aware of the fact that they are allowed to be examined by a doctor of their own choice. It is the opinion of KRIM’s opinion that a prisoner is never allowed access to a doctor of their own choice.

Negatively strong prisoners
KRIM has noted that the CPT in § 33 recommends that a decision to classify a prisoner as negatively strong be reviewed at regular intervals (e.g. every three months). Further, it would like to be informed of the exact criteria for classifying a prisoner as negatively strong.

KRIM believes that the access of the prison authorities to classify prisoners as “negatively strong” to a very large degree is being used to circumvent the European Prison Rules. The European Prison Rules issue prisoners with the right to be informed about the charges if they are charged with a disciplinary offence in the prison. In the summer 2002 a new law was passed. The new law gives the prison authorities the right not to inform a prisoner about the reasons, if the authorities decide to move the prisoner to another prison for instance from an open institution to a closed institution or if it is decided to isolate the prisoner from other prisoners. The prisoner has no longer the right to see any files in his own case on which the decision is based. Therefore the prisoner has no reasonable chance to prepare his or her defence.

Often prisoners who are spokesmen for other prisoners or prisoners who publicize critical opinions in the media on the prison service report to KRIM that they with out notice and without any reason are told that they now are classified as negatively strong prisoners and for that reason are transferred to closed prisons or to isolation cells.

Many prisoners consult KRIM with allegations that they have been exposed to gross infringements in their rights. Often they refuse to accept interference from KRIM because their fear that the staff might decide to classify them as negatively strong prisoners.

Initially negatively strong prisoners were offered the same possibilities as other prisoners. Some prisoners actually reported to KRIM, that negatively strong prisoners were offered better conditions than those of other prisoners.

The conditions for negatively strong prisoners have been tightened to a large degree since the summer 2002. A very old and dark prison was closed in 1992 after allegations on violence against prisoners. In 2004 after a minor refurbishment the prison was reopened. The prison is an old remand centre at the Copenhagen Police Headquarters. The Danish Home Secretary (justitsministeren) announced that the prison was reopened in order to accommodate negatively strong prisoners. The stay in the prison was meant to be an additional punishment. A tough regime based on isolation was introduces. The prisoners are lucked up in their cells apart from one hour a day. They are isolated, and they are only allowed to associate with one other prisoner picked by the prison staff. Only two prisoners are allowed out of their cells at a time. A press-release from the Home Secretary gives the impression that the purpose of the new prison is to give the prisoners kept there a hard time. Prisoners can stay in the prison for an indefinite period of time.

KRIM is aware of the fact that a number of very vulnerable prisoners who burden the prison staff in other prisons are being classified as negatively strong prisoners. Some of them have been sent to the above mentioned prison;

The KRIM-staff has been asked if they are aware of examples of prisoners who have been classified as negatively strong who have managed to have that classification altered. Most staff believes that it hasn’t happened at all.

Prisoners work and education
In § 48 the CPT mentions the lack of access to work “preferably with vocational value” in prisons. Over the past years KRIM has received many complaints from prisoners who want to embark on an education while in prison. Their request is often turned down for economical reasons. A long term prisoners at the Herstedvester Prison (doing security detention) wanted to do an a-level course. The school found that he had the qualifications. His application was turned down because the prison was unable to pay his tuition fee which amounts to approximately DKK 3.000 a year. The course is needed to get access to the university. The prisoner wants to study law. He expects to spend many years in prison, and he believes that he could get far on a law course if the prison service would allow him to do so. Another prisoner in the same prison feels that the prison sabotaged his Dutch-course at the Copenhagen University.

Individual custody plans
KRIM is aware of the fact that many long term prisoners have no individual custody plan even though they ask for one (§ 49).

Confidentiality of medical data

In the Herstedvester Prison which accommodate prisoners with psychiatric disorders many prisoners complain about the fact that the non-medical staff (the prison warders) have full access to their files. Some of the prisoners tell that they are ridiculed by the prison warders who have got access to information from their files. It is a policy in the Danish prison service that the “uniformed staff” has influence on all matters concerning the prisoners life in prisons. They participate in the decision making about each prisoner. They have an influence for instance about whether a prisoner should be released on parole or not. The prisoners often mention to KRIM that they feel very unsafe about that. They feel that many prison warders weight irrelevant criteria while making their decisions on the prisoners. A prisoner at Herstedvester tells that he was met by scornful nicknames such as El Gordo (the fat person) after it was mentioned in his medical record that he wanted to loose weight. In a report about treatment of sex offenders the prison tells about the fact, that prison warders participate in the decision making on individual prisoners also their medical treatment. The report has the title: "Behandling af sædelighedskriminelle i Anstalten ved Herstedvester" and is written by the psychiatrist Steen Mollerup in 2006.

Avenues of complain about ill-treatment in prisons
In § 63 the CPT highlight the need for prisoners ”avenues of complaint about ill-treatment in prisons. KRIM is aware of the fact that the European Court on Human Rights over the years has developed a standard which means that the authorities have to make thorough examinations into allegations from prisoners that they have been victims of a treatment incompatible with article 2 in European Convention on Human Rights. KRIM believes that the prison authorities make very little effort to examine what has happened when prisoners complain about ill-treatment. The authorities accept the statements made by the staff. The prison service publishes no statistics about the number of complaints received and hence forward there is no statistics available about the number of persons whose complaints are accepted.

Prisoners who complain about the prison service have no access to have the fee for their lawyer paid for by public funds.

The Home office has recently ruled that the prison service was allowed to overhear a telephone conversation between a prisoner and his lawyer. It was not argued from the prison that the prison suspected the lawyer (or the prisoner) of any crime or dubious behaviour. The home office accepted that the conversation was overheard even though the prison did not give any actual reason.

The decision is obviously infringing the principles in Campbell v. United Kingdom. 

Absenteeism among custodial staff and the problem of prison staff who do not “venture outside” their offices in the units
In § 65 the CPT highlights the problems of a relatively high level of absenteeism among custodial staff. In § 66 the CPT discusses the staff who do not “venture outside their offices located within the units”.

Prisoners very often report to KRIM that a group of prison staff is not bothered with the prisoners at all. Their complaints have not led to any change. In the Easter 2007 a large national daily newspaper (Jyllands Posten) disclosed statements from prison staff who told the newspaper that they had dropped out from the prison service because a group of “negatively strong prison staff” intimidated other staff from doing their job properly. Staff who wanted to assist the prisoners in getting on in their lives where discouraged to do so. They were told that assistance to prisoners meant more work. Over the autumn about 60 articles were printed on the subject. Initially all interviews were anonymous eventually they were named. A prison governor left her job in September 2007. She claimed that she was bullied by negatively strong prison warders at Herstedvester. A women prison officer at the new prison in East Jylland claimed that she was told by other prison warders, that she would be screwed in her arse if she told tales about unacceptable behaviour from other members of the staff. A new Home Office Report from 2005 suggests that the prison service face serious problems because a number of prison warders do not accept the rules of the prison and make their own rules. The report suggests that they are not bothered to work but spend their working hours watching television and playing cards with other staff.

Prisoners have often complained about brutal staff to KRIM over the past years. In remand houses there is – according to many prisoners – an unwritten rule saying that prisoners are not supposed to ring the bell after closing-up hours at 9.30 pm. The prisoners are expected to urine in the hand basin.

Prison staff has also reported to the press during 2007, that prisoners who bother the staff with many request may end up in the fixation cell. They claim that prisoners are beaten up.

The Director of the Prison Head Quarters has responded to the many cases in the news papers that he is unable to prove anything. 

The Home Office has refused to open an independent examination. They have asked a solicitor to look at the problem. The solicitor normally represents the government in cases where the government is sued by citizens. It is not believed by KRIM that the solicitor dare put forward criticism. In early February newspapers revealed that prison staff at Herstedvester intimidates witnesses who are called to give statements to the solicitor.             
KRIM believes that the problem with negatively strong prison staff has escalated over the past 6-7 years. The prison staff has made campaigns in the press where they have gained sympathy from a group of MPs by telling that negatively strong prisoners rule the prisons due to the tolerant and lenient regimes in Danish prisons. Other groups of staff (teachers and social workers) have had very little say. A prison governor claims that the ratio of other groups of staff in Danish prisons is relatively low compared to other countries. KRIM doesn’t know whether that is true or not.

Prisoners often tell to KRIM that they find it difficult to get through to other staff than prison warders in the prisons. They are simply not there according to some prisoners.

KRIM has published a number of articles on so called negatively strong prison staff (all in danish):

Ledere i kriminalforsorgen ønsker indsats mod negativ betjent-kultur i hele kriminalforsorgen - 2007

Fængselsbetjente presser andre faggrupper ud af kriminalforsorgen - 2007

Begrebet "stærke og negative indsatte" bruges i fængselsforbundets fagpolitiske kamp

Fængselsbetjente frygter at komme i "bad standing" hos tyranniske kolleger - november 2007

Nyansatte fængselsbetjente- Mobning af de indsatte er en "udbredt kultur" i danske fængsler - november 2007

Indsatte føler sig mere udsat for vold og trusler fra personalet end fra medindsatte - 2001

Topics not on the agenda in 2002 

Security Detention
Prisoners in security detention are offered no contradictory examination when the psychiatrists at Herstedvester have decided that they are not yet ready for release.

Handcuffs and belt
A new trend has developed in the Danish prison service. An increasing number of prisoners are being put in handcuffs or belts during transport. This also applies to prisoners who have no record of violence to the staff. Prisoners are also asked to appear in court handcuffed.

Convicted prisoners in isolation

Many prisoners in Danish prisons are being held in isolation for a number of years. Their situation is not regularly reviewed, and because of the new law mentioned in the paragraph on negatively strong prisoners above, they are not given any reason. They feel that they don’t know what to do in order to obtain access to the company of their fellow inmates again.

KRM has had fairly good contact with a convicted prisoner who has been kept in isolation for about 4 years. He has been exposed to "homemade" rules made individually to him. He has had strict limitations for instance to the number of underpants he is allowed to possess (maximum 7 pairs). He is regularly moved around between prisons and between cells. No other prisoners are allowed to be on the landing, if he is out of his cell. The prisoner is for long periods not allowed to use the exercise room in the wing for isolated prisoners. The prisoner is supposed to undergo regular strip searches even though he is kept away from other prisoners. The prisoner regularly shows signs of being psychotic. It's KRIMs impression that the prisoners mental state deteriorates at a brisk pace due to the conditions he is exposed to.KRIM has described that particular prisoners situation on the following link: Kan man drive isolationsfangen Jan Henrik vanvittig- - følg med her!  It is also KRIMs impression that he is a very vulnerable prisoner.

An other vulnerable prisoner has also been kept isolated for a number of years. He is now kept in isolation in the prison designed for negatively strong prisoners in Copenhagen.