PRESS RELEASE: Penitentiary Policies in Bulgaria Are Not Adapted to the Needs of Women
February 2, 2016, Sofia
Within its penitentiary system the Bulgarian state treats incarcerated women and men in the same way, applying uniform rules and policies towards the two groups. As a result women's specific needs - medical, psychological, educational, occupational, social ae disregarded, which leads to uneven results, or in other words discrimination against women in prison. This is the conclusion of a study by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) regarding the conditions in the only women’s prison in Bulgaria.
BHC's study is the organization’s first publication that focuses entirely on the specific problems and needs of imprisoned women, with an emphasis on the right to family life, pregnancy, birth and child care at the women’s prison. These are areas in which imprisonment has an extremely negatively effect on the convicted and thus requires targeted measures to remedy the situation.
The lack of gender approach when it comes to imprisonment is probably due to the small proportion of women inmates (about 4% of the total). This leads to one of the main problems related to their geographical and social isolation in the only women’s prison in Bulgaria.
Due to the fact that there is only one prison for women, the legal principle of accommodating prisoners as near to their permanent address as possible cannot be implemented. This circumstance is the most obvious and undeniable sign of gender discrimination against women in the Bulgarian penitentiary system.
Isolation leads to other problems such as poor contact with family and friends and has a negative impact on a person’s reintegration into society after serving their sentence. The long distances to the prison make home leaves and visits expensive and complicated. Keeping in touch through phone calls is also difficult as they are considerably more expensive than phone calls in the community, and many prisoners cannot afford them.
As of July 2015, 93 inmates are mothers of children younger than 18, and 33% of them are single mothers. While most children remain in their usual family environment or with the inmate’s partner, 35% of the children are taken out of the family environment and placed with relatives, in institutions, foster families or elsewhere. The effective separation of a mother from the lives of her children leads to severe suffering. Women should be actively supported by prison staff and encouraged to communicate with their daughters and sons. The state does not provide any additional funds to children whose parents are in prison or specialized social and psychological support to relatives carrying out parenting functions.
The Bulgarian criminal law does not contain specific rules for determining the punishment of women in cases of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or care for newborns and there is no alternative to being sent to prison or a detention center. Between 2011 and 2014 there were 58 monitored pregnancies in prison. Of those only 11 pregnant women were released before delivery. Although they are relieved in some ways, conditions for pregnant women in prison are harsh and unsuitable to their health and social needs.
Living conditions in the prison in Sliven are satisfactory compared to the overall situation in other prisons in Bulgaria. The most serious problem is the lack of bathroom facilities in prisoners’ cells, the insufficient number of showers, toilets and sinks in the common bathrooms, as well as limited access to hot water. Inmates, whose regime requires accommodation in locked cells at night, are forced to use buckets for their physiological needs.
Another important issue examined in the report concerns women’s right to parole. Although 82% of women in prison are there for non-violent crimes and the percentage of those serving sentences for a second or a third time is twice as low as that of men, men are recommended for conditional early release five times more often compared to women.
The study makes a number of important recommendations to the Ministry of Justice regarding the establishment of adequate policies and rules to the needs of women.
You can read the full report here [in Bulgarian].
You can download the infographic here.