The issue of prison overcrowding plagues many of the countries where crime is rampant and justice is swift. The United States is forced to accommodate prisoners as a result of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and other strict sentencing guidelines for criminals, which accumulate millions of prisoners throughout the country. However, have the conditions and overcrowding ever become so onerous that it warrants a possible human rights violation? In Russia, Mr. Aleksandr Anatoyevich Dmitriyev believed so and used his case to bring some attention to the issue.
After his conviction, Mr. Dimtriyev was brought to Tomsk prison, a remand prison, which was a temporary holding facility for prisoners who had case hearings to attend and their main facility was too far for travel. While his intermittent stays were only temporary, totaling to about 2 years and 3 months, his stays was by no means comfortable with a 14 square meter transit cell equipped for 4 three tier beds and a population that varied from 9 to 12 inmates. The cell had only one window and each prisoner was only allowed about an hour of free time outside, behind immense walls preventing their escape. His complaint to the regional prosecutor was duly noted and the regional prosecutor acknowledged that the prison was overcrowded. This led to a civil suit against Russia for violations of Article 3 of European Convention on Human Rights, for subjecting an individual to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment and article 6, which entitles everyone to a right to a fair and public hearing by tribunal.
Much of the case was dismissed on procedural grounds, such as failing to adhere to the six month statute of limitations given to prisoners to bring causes of action, but the article 3 violations were upheld and Mr. Dimitriyev was eventually awarded damages in the amount of EUR 5,000. The court noted that such extreme overcrowding is sufficient in of itself to establish an article 3 Convention violation and that the merits of the claim do not really have to be examined. The court held that the prison conditions constituted inhuman and degrading conditions and warranted relief. Prisoners are subject to a lot of problems while in the prison system. While they need to be held accountable for their actions and it is their own fault for being put into their situation, they are still entitled to basic human rights. Overcrowded prisons can cause issues with sleep, comfortable accommodations and the peace of mind needed to carry out their sentence with as little problems as possible.
While Mr. Dimitriyev only stayed in the Tomsk prison for short periods of time, the overcrowding could have exacerbated his issues with the prison and caused more problems than solved. Equally important is the remedy, which does not adequately address the bigger issue of prison overcrowding. While Mr. Dimitriyev did receive compensation for the article 3 Convention violation, overcrowding in Russia, specifically the Tomsk prison, is and has not been solved.
How should countries handle prison overcrowding? Should countries take more proactive stances on providing adequate facilities for their inmates? Are their laws in effect that make overcrowding worse? Are more prisons necessary to defeat this issue?
Picture: Huffington Post