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26 October 2010
Interview

Mustafa Bisic: ‘New Jail Won’t Solve Bosnia’s Prison Overflow’

Dragana Erjavec BIRN BiH Sarajevo
Long-expected state-level facility meets highest European standards - but with only 300 places it won’t entirely ease the problem of crowded jails, Bosnia’s deputy justice minister warns.
In a little over two years, people convicted of crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be able to serve their sentences in the country’s first state-level prison, in Ilidza, near Sarajevo.

While the new prison will be the only one in the country to meet all required safety precautions and European standards, it will not solve the problem of overcrowding in Bosnia’s other prisons.

“The prison… will show Europe that we have a highly secure prison with relevant European standards, but with [only] 300 beds, it will not solve the problem we face in other prisons”, Mustafa Bisic, Bosnia’s Deputy Justice Minister, told BIRN-Justice Report.

Bosnia currently has four closed prisons, located in Zenica, in central Bosnia; in Foca, eastern Bosnia; in Banja Luka, northwest Bosnia and in Bijeljina, northeast Bosnia.

All four fall under the jurisdiction of Bosnia’s two “entity” governments. Zenica lies in the Bosniak-Croat entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the other three are in the Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska.

Bosnia’s new state-level prison has been under construction since 2006 when the first foundation stone was laid. According to plan, it should have been ready in 2008.

But deadlines have been repeatedly pushed back and for now, only the perimeter wall with surveillance towers, water, gas, sewers, telephone connections and some other appliances are complete.

According to Bisic, the reasons behind the delay were mainly financial. But he says these problems were resolved in the beginning of 2010, when the European Development Bank approved a loan of 20 million euro.

“According to the current plan, the first prisoners will enter into the new facility in east Ilidza in April 2013,” Bisic said.

Currently, the worst overcrowding in prisons is in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more than 800 people convicted of prison terms are awaiting places to serve sentences.

Bisic says the Departments of Correction [prisons] in the Federation are more than 100 per cent utilized. Utilization capacity in the Republika Srpska is a little lower, at 84 per cent.

To make fuller use of all the country’s jail capacities, Bosnia’s Ministry of Justice intends to make changes to the prison system, so that people convicted in one entity can serve their sentences in the other entity.

“The law already allows a convict who has served one half of his sentence to request transfer from one entity to another,” Bisic noted. “Legislative changes will allow a convicted person to be transferred from one institution to another, regardless of which entity it is in,” he added.

In another move to reduce prison overcrowding, over the past year Bosnia has introduced “alternative criminal sanctions” by which a year of a prison sentence can be replaced by community service.

Another way to reduce overcrowding, Bisic says, will be an option to pay a fine instead of serving a prison sentence of up to one year.

“At the beginning of 2010, the criminal code was amended to enable persons sentenced up to one year’s jail to submit an application to pay a fine within 30 days of the sentence being issued,” Bisic explained.

Besides overcrowding in prisons, the Federation entity also has a shortage of places in closed psychiatric institutions for people detained for compulsory psychiatric treatment.

Owing to the lack of facilities, mentally ill persons convicted of crimes are currently placed in an improvised section of the prison in Zenica. Bisic said this problem should be resolved by the end of this year.

“One action that we’re taking to improve the prison system in Bosnia is adapting the former psychiatric clinic in Sokolac [in eastern Bosnia],” he said.

Thanks to funds obtained from the Swiss government back in 2006, he added, this is expected to become operational by the end of this year.

By law, mentally ill people convicted of crimes may only be placed in special sections of psychiatric centres. But they can stay there only up to one year, after which they must be released.

For that reason, said Bisic, the opening of the Psychiatric Clinic in Sokolac will make a major contribution to security, because persons who have committed crimes in a state of insanity, and who need psychiatric care, can now be placed there instead.

“By opening the clinic in Sokolac we will accomplish another part of the [goal of attaining] European norms in our prison system, which is an objective for all of us involved in prison matters in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Bisic said.

Dragana Erjavec is BIRN’s Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN online publication.
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