The Albanian Helsinki Committee has asked that the government close down the Zaharia psychiatric prison near Kruja, due to overcrowding, staff shortages and a lack of ability to provide the necessary care. In a Facebook post, they called conditions “a serious violation of the rights of persons in this institution.”
The Committee made five visits to the facility over the course of a year and a half and found constant, concerning failures in the quality of care provided. In an open letter sent to the Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj and the Minister of Health Ogerta Manastirliu, they called for its immediate closure.
In the letter, the Committee raised concerns over a “disturbing” level of overcrowding. There are currently 284 inmates while the maximum capacity is 194. This is an overcrowding rate of around 30% and while each inmate has a bed, they are crammed into small rooms, sharing with as many as five other inmates.
The letter notes; “the accommodation capacities of the rooms are small compared to the number of citizens accommodated in them […] 4x3m size rooms were found, accommodating five patients.”
The minimum standards acceptable to the Council of Europe are 6m square for single-patient rooms, and 4m square per patient in double rooms. This means that there are two people too many in a room that is designed to house just three.
Also observed was the lack of staff to supervise and care for that amount of patients. This resulted in “an overload on the current effective staff”. In fact, it was found that there were only two psychiatrists employed to treat 284 inmates.
The letter added that there is also no heating in the hospital, but that some patients were allowed portable heaters which are considered dangerous and a risk to life.
In 2016 and 2018, the Committee had already raised the alarm over the prison and had called for its closure and the prosecution of those responsible for “inhuman and shameful treatment” as per Article 86 (D) of the Criminal Code.
Even more concerning is the fact that last year, they found 98% of inmates are not criminals and are there due to a mental health condition. This, says the Committee is against the law.
Many inmates were there under a legal provision that allows forced treatment, something the Committee described as “a harsh policy.” They added that for minor crimes of mental health issues, inmates should be treated at home because keeping them in such isolated environments does not help them in their rehabilitation.
In March, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture recommended the prison be closed, yet still, nothing was done.
Then in September, the CoE Committee observed how psychiatric patients were “held for many years under unacceptable conditions and with insufficient psychiatric care”. The authorities were told to “redouble their efforts” to improve the quality of life and care for inmates as well as to provide adequate training for staff.
Multiple warnings, suggestions, and now requests for closure of this facility have been made by local and international human rights bodies, yet according to the Helsinki Committee’s recent report, the situation is getting worse.