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Saturday 21.07.2018 | Name days: Meldra, Meldris, Melisa

A talk with prison chief on released murderers with immunity status, marriage and suicides in Latvian prisons

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU«A person who, during the time of the commission of the offence, was in a state of mental incapacity, that is, due to a mental disorder or mental disability was not able to understand his or her acts or control them, may not be held criminally liable,» as stated in the Criminal Law. But what happens when such a person commits a crime again? Should it be considered an error committed by Latvian medical institutions – that such a person is not held responsible for his or her actions? Is it the blindness of the government that prevents resolving one of the most serious problems – monitoring such persons?

«The problem when a person previously released from criminal liability due to mental problems committing a crime again is not resolved well enough. There is no institution to put these people in. In addition, people put in mental hospitals for taking someone’s life are also dangerous for the people working there,» said Prison Administration Chief General Ilona Spure in an interview to BNN.

Spure says that people with a tendency to repeat crimes are put in psychiatric hospitals, but not for long. After being provided with medical assistance – administration of necessary medication – those people are released. This is considered progress. «The problem is that such institutions lack the space, which is often the reason why those people are released early. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single institution in Latvia that would monitor those people after they have been released. This, unfortunately, means those people are free to repeat crimes.»

As noted by Spure, the Prison Administration has no authority to comment on how accurate psychological assessment process is – when a person is declared mentally sane or insane. This decision is for medical institutions to make.

Latvian prisons hospital also has a psychiatric ward that deals with cases when a person is diagnosed with a mental disorder during their prison. «This is within our competence. However, once the prison sentence is over, we have to release the person. Once they leave prison walls – this is no longer in our competence. And this is the weak link, because there is no monitoring. Latvian ministries should sit down and think to resolve this problem,» said Spure.

When asked why this problems was not resolved in the past, Spure said the years of economic crisis are to blame – the budget was simply too constricted to afford forming new institutions. She mentioned that social centres are not effective when it comes to monitoring of people with mental incapacity who committed violent crimes.

It should be noted that it is not possible to put a person with mental incapacity in prison. «If a person is found mentally unstable or mentally unwell, that person is put in an institution that provides treatment. Often people end up in prison as partially mentally sound. Sometimes their state worsens the more time they spend in prison. Nevertheless, each case should be viewed individually,» said Spure.

Paedophilia in Latvia does not decline

According to data from State Police, crime rate in Latvia continues to decline. However, Spure allows that this data may be associated with the change of the population. She also notes that latent crime rates – crimes that go unreported to authorities – remain in majority.

«This is more about domestic violence – against children and women – as well as sex crimes, especially against children. Children subjected to paedophilia are afraid to tell about it to their parents, let alone to the police. Latent crimes prevent us from believing in a decline of crime rates.»

Speaking of paedophilia in Latvia, Spure said that there are around 350 people who face charges of paedophilia every year. She says that the number of sex crimes in Latvia does not have a tendency to decline.

«It is necessary to change people’s attitude. It is necessary for everyone to understand that involvement and reporting are two vital factors to help reduce violence. People are still often indifferent and reluctant to report violence to the police. Here it is vitally important for the police to respond to such reports – it would help people trust in authorities, knowing that the problems they report end up getting resolved.»

Unsafe Latvian prisons?

Latvia is one of the rare European countries that do not suffer from overpopulation. While a couple of years ago the total number of inmates in Latvian prisons was 6,5000, the current number is 3,772. Spure notes that the total number of inmates continues to decline. Because of that, Prison Administration cannot complain about lack of free cells.

Nevertheless, Spure says that old prisons in Latvia are not able to ensure efficient execution of sentences. This is why the government’s decision to postpone construction of Liepaja prison to 2020 is a very painful topic for Prison Administration.

«Construction of a new prison would provide many changes in matters of security. We don’t need four new prisons. Considering the gradual decline of inmates, Latvia could make due with two prisons. Unfortunately, existing prisons are not sufficiently safe on the outside, considering their geographical location. New prisons would undoubtedly increase security, and Liepaja prison already had a plan prepared to improve overall efficiency.»

Comparing Latvia to Estonia, Spure said that the neighbouring country has already sorted out this problem. Estonia has opened its third new prison, and all of the old ones have been liquidated. «This helps perform sentence execution more effectively. They have a good personnel selection system, as well as training – prison officers train for three years, and prison officials are fine waiting for three years and knowing that they will get qualified workers out of it.»

But what about Latvia? «Education opportunities are close to zero, because what is important to know for our officers was previously possible to learn in the Police Academy of Latvia. Now it is no more and nothing has been created to replace it. The current big idea is coming up with yet another project and apply for financing from the Norwegian financial instrument, because there is no other way for us to develop.»

It should be emphasized that not a single new prison was built in Latvia in the past 150 years. «What has been accomplished so far was accomplished using financial support from the Norwegian government.»

Suicides in prisons: people can’t handle psychological pressure, ‘go out’ before being let out

Spure says that in her 24-year-long career in Prison Administration, she cannot recall a single year that passed without a suicide in one of the prisons. Looking at statistics of suicides across the country, prisons take up very little, even considering the isolated environment where people are subjected to increased levels of stress and abuse on a regular basis.

«Most often such cases take place during the arrest and before the announcement of the court’s ruling. There have been cases when people received notes from home, saying ‘I want a divorce’. There have also been cases when inmates could not handle psychological pressure of the realization of being released,» Spure told BNN.

She said that the Prison Administration is currently working on a project to help former inmates. «Of course, we want to find people, institutions and municipalities to provide moral support to those people. Unfortunately, there have been cases when people could not live normal lives after being released from prison – they just commit crimes again and end up in prison. Often those people think life in prison is easier – people there don’t have to think about financial matters. Unfortunately, every next crime those people commit has the possibility of being even worse than the last,» said Spure.

Latvian inmates get marries more and more often

While in the past there had been a dozen or so marriages registered in prison a year, now the number of marriages reaches a hundred. «One the one hand, it is good that people are able to find their other halves even while in prison, ensuring that they have a place to go when they are released. On the other hand there is the quality of marriages. We have seen cases when people simply do not understand that they are getting married – they want to be loved, but reality often turns out drastically different than what they had expected before leaving prison.»

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