Despite plans to halve the number of prisoners, Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) believes that Tartu Prison buildings should be repurposed, not the prison closed altogether in the coming years.
Starting July 1, Tartu Prison is halving the number of prisoners it houses and will continue to operate as a regional prison moving forward. In an appearance on Vikerraadio's "Vikerhommik" morning program on Thursday, Laanet said that due to the decreased number of prisoners, the plan is to mothball one block at the prison this summer.
The Ministry of Justice is also simultaneously considering possible options for repurposing prison infrastructure.
Laanet, in any case, doesn't believe that Tartu Prison will be closed altogether in the years ahead.
"I very much doubt that we'll be getting to the point within two or three years that we could manage closing Tartu Prison down altogether," he said.
"They've been specially built as prisons, which doesn't preclude the possibility that it may be possible to use them for other purposes someday," he continued, expressing hope that the buildings won't end up standing empty.
The minister explained that the prison buildings in question don't actually belong to the Justice Ministry, but rather to Estonian state real estate company Riigi Kinnisvara AS (RKAS), which likewise needs to consider how they can make these buildings profitable.
"We can mothball them, and we can reduce certain economic costs, but we ultimately still have to pay rent to RKAS," he noted.
Nonetheless, the Estonian minister is skeptical of the idea of renting prison space to other EU member states short on the same.
"If we reach a point in time where someone specifically expresses their wish, then..." Laanet said. "Currently, no one has requested to bring [their] prisoners into our custody and pay for it."
The U.K. has touched on the issue, however it has not said anything concrete indicating that this may happen.
The number of prisoners in Estonia has declined rapidly in recent years. On year, for example, the total number of prisoners fell by one-tenth to a historic low of 1,827.
Incarceration currently costs Estonian taxpayers more than €3,000 per prisoner per month.
90 jobs to be cut
This summer, 250 prisoners from Tartu Prison will be transferred to Tallinn Prison, leaving just over 300 prisoners at the former as of July 1. The prison in Estonia's second-largest city currently houses 555 prisoners.
Together with its open prison, Tartu Prison will be retaining a capacity of 411, down from the current 993.
The cut in number of prisoners will result in the loss of 90 jobs.
Editor: Aili Vahtla