By Ivana Jovanovic
A new Serbian prison in Padinska Skela — dubbed the Serbian Alcatraz – is offering much-needed relief to the country’s overcrowded penal system.
“It is a most secure and most modern facility in the region based on European standards and adapted to people with special needs,” Zorana Vucicevic, advisor to the director of the Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions (AEPS), told SETimes.
There are more than 11,000 convicts in Serbia’s 29 prisons, according to AEPS data.
“The prison capacity according to EU standards should be 7,500. The increased number … comes as a consequence of the strengthened actions fighting serious and organized crime,” Vucicevic said.
The first 16 inmates moved into Padinska Skela earlier this month. AEPS authorities said they plan to transfer another 450 prisoners serving sentences for serious crimes.
Ivan Kuzmanovic, an attorney for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, told SETimes that overcrowding is result of insufficient use of parole.
“Our problem is that between 95% and 97% of all parolee applications have been rejected. A problem arises as prisoners know that will remain in until the end regardless of whether they stay good or bad,” Kuzmanovic said.
If a prisoner behaves well, he should have the opportunity to learn a trade or work, Kuzmanovic said Recidivism is another cause of congestion. Convicts often commit new crimes, even provoke conflicts with prison staff, to extend their sentences, according to Kuzmanovic.
The prison houses two inmates per room. [Courtesy of Administration for Enforcement of Penal Sanctions]
“In prison, they have a roof over their head, three meals, security service that cares for them. They have no other choice and do not know how to behave outside,” he said.
The increasing recidivism burdens the whole penal system, authorities say. “There are a very large number of drug addicts and a far greater number of those persons who have committed violent crimes. On the other hand, we have fewer [guards] each year and are prevented from hiring new staff because of the financial situation” Vucicevic said.
Experts believe however that alternative sanctions — house arrests, including wearing electronic monitoring bracelets as well as community service — offer a solution to overcrowding. The government began implementing such measures in 2011.
“The law provides that the house arrest can serve those who have been sentenced up to one year for any criminal offense. Community service is possible for those who may receive a sentence of less than three years,” Vucicevic said.
There are currently 150 people under house arrest wearing electronic monitoring bracelet, three are in house detention and 30 perform work in the public interest, according to AEPS.
Institute of Criminology associate Dobrivoje Radovanovic told SETimes that the government must allocate budget funds to improve human resources in the penal system if it is serious about sanctioning crime.
An additional concern is not allowing the mixing of situational with hard core criminals. “If mixing occurs, violent criminalisation takes place of the former,” Radovanovic said.
To avoid mixing, open prisons are being built where educators work with the prisoners, he said. “But [these prisoners] cannot be [second offenders], have long sentences or be convicted of [violent] crimes,” Radovanovic added.
Authorities said they also plan to build new prisons in Kragujevac, Pancevo and Medvedja.