A series of proposals to improve the lives of female prisoners in Estonia have been put forward by Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise after an inspection in February found Tallinn Prison does not completely comply with international standards.
"Unfortunately, not everything in Tallinn Prison complies with the law and international requirements. Many of the problems identified in Tallinn Prison are similar to the problems identified during the Tartu Prison inspection in 2020 and Viru Prison in 2021," the chancellor wrote while also acknowledging some improvements have been made.
Shortcomings in Tallinn Prison, and others in Estonia, include failing to prepare inmates for a return to normal life and a system that creates the possibility for abuse, she said.
Tallinn Prison has not improved its inmate's possibilities for exercise or to get year-round fresh air, and communication, issues highlighted in a 2014 report, Madise wrote. These need to be brought up to international standards, she said.
Mothers and children: noise complaints, clothes, photos
In the Mothers and Children Ward, Madise recommended noise reduction solutions are needed and that prisoners and children should be allowed to wear normal clothing when meeting.
Concerning noise, the chancellor said women had complained about the loud slamming of gates and movement in corridors and wards. She wrote this "often startles the children even during sleep". Madise recommended that sound-proofing panels be installed.
The chancellor said strip-searching children who come to meet their parents must stop. Mothers meeting visiting children should also be allowed to wear their own clothes.
"The prison should look for ways to further reduce the exposure of children living in prison with their mothers to the prison environment," she said.
Madise praised developments that have created the opportunity to allow photography in the ward and suggested this should be expanded for other parents in prison.
"Making joint pictures and creating memories supports the re-socialization of inmates and is also important for their children," she wrote.
New solitary confinement guidelines needed
A continuing problem is assessing the need for solitary confinement, the chancellor wrote, saying the rules are not always clear. She suggested new guidelines be drawn up.
These rules should state that prison officials and staff will work to get the inmate out of solitary confinement as soon as possible. Action plans should be drawn up for each prisoner, especially for those who are a danger to themselves or others.
The prison should also monitor inmates' health statuses every day and offer "opportunities for meaningful communication". Living conditions in solitary confinement cells also need to be improved.
The hygiene facilities in each cell should be separate and only monitored in exceptional cases, the report says.
Ventilation, lighting and washing facilities need improvement
Many inmates complained about poor ventilation, dry air and high amounts of dust in cells, Madise wrote. She suggested prison management check compliance with ventilation system requirements.
The chancellor also recommended the prison remove metal bars from the windows of solitary confinement and isolation cells and provide security in other ways, such as shatter-proof glass. The official said the current situation does not allow enough light to enter cells.
Washing facilities should also be improved, she wrote. People in solitary confinement should be able to shower at least twice a week, instead of once. Shower room ventilation could also be improved and privacy provided.
Prisoners need better access to information
Management should must think about inmates' access to information sources, such as books, newspapers and computers, the chancellor said. Prison rules and explanatory letters should also be published in commonly used foreign languages.
Restoring the prison library should also be considered in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice to at least the level in 2019. Inmates should be allowed to read national newspapers and magazines regularly and without unreasonable delay, as the law states.
The prison also needs to try and hire staff for empty positions such as guards and medical staff. The current deficit affects the work atmosphere, ability to deal with inmates and prison security, she highlighted.
There is a particular shortage of medical workers and this impacts the availability and quality of mental health services, compliance with drug safety requirements and ensuring patient confidentiality data when dispensing drugs
The organization and conditions in prison must also assist in prisoners' resocialization, Madise wrote.
"Creating work and study opportunities, maintaining family ties, and having a social life significantly increase the chance that a person will start or continue a law-abiding life upon release. Therefore, prison plays a big role in making society safer, repeated in reducing crime and also in reducing the costs of incarceration," she emphasized in her summary.
The recommendations are intended for the Ministry of Justice, as well as Tallinn Prison, and some suggestions would require changing the law to implement.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright