The Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC) has just issued a report on prison conditions in the Jau Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre (JRRC).

The PDRC was set up in mid-2013 under the auspices of the independent Ombudsman Office to “assess the conditions and treatment of detainees and to deter and help prevent torture, inhumane or degrading treatment in places of custody”. The organization has legal powers to monitor detention centres and work to improve prison conditions and prevent abuses. 

Members of the PDRC in November 2015 spoke to detainees and staff at the Jau detention facility and published an extensive report which can be found in full here. The report discussed all aspects of prisoners’ lives, including recreational facilities, access to legal counsel, family visits and detainees’ welfare.

The report cites instances were abuses were reported. For example, prisoners described cases of assault on arrival at the prison facility. This led to investigation of the officers involved and imprisonment of staff members. In several cases prisoner complaints were verified by study of CCTV footage, leading to prosecution of those responsible.

The report concluded: “Overall, the PDRC found things that needed to improve at JRRC to assure the public and the MOI that the prison was properly regulated and safe. The PDRC concluded that the new JRRC management started to improve the prison conditions. A lot of work needed to be done and the PDRC has made recommendations and will follow up with all concerned parties.”

Along with the work of the independent Ombudsman, the PDRC makes a major contribution to increasing transparency and accountability for all aspects of the Bahrain prison system. Although the report cites many improvements in the handling of prisoners and their welfare, there are also many notable shortcomings. We hope that all parties will work seriously to address these and demonstrate that the Bahrain authorities are serious in prioritizing their human rights and prisoner welfare commitments.

Below are substantive quotes from the report covering all areas investigated by the PDRC. For ease of reference, the PDRC’s recommendations are included in full at the end.

Legal rights

“…Prisoners could freely exercise their legal rights and all of them could see an attorney in private, but PDRC concluded that they were not given enough information about their rights in a language they understood…”

“…PDRC team found that any prisoner could meet his attorney upon request. The management sometimes arranged an appointment even outside visiting hours. Meetings with attorneys took place in a special private room…” 

Prison visits & communication with families

“…Prisoners could communicate with their relatives to tell them about their whereabouts and non-Bahrainis were able to contact their country’s embassy, diplomatic mission or consulate…” 

“…Prisoners could receive visits according to the regulations and visiting times were good. The visitors’ area had rooms that ensured privacy. After complaints from some women visitors with children. PDRC verified the process and confirmed that search was done by the mothers in the presence of female guards that said the search is done to ensure that no prohibited materiel were taken in… Prisoners could make telephone calls but there was a shortage of telephone cabins…”

Religious freedoms

“…The reports of some groups that there is discrimination against certain religious denominations was not confirmed by PDRC’s observations. The PDRC team concluded that the religious beliefs of all prisoners are respected. Prisoners can meet counselors and religious guides and they are not prevented from practicing their own rites in accordance with the regulations that govern the coexistence of all prisoners in general…”

“…The JRRC administration confirmed to the PDRC team that the freedom of religious practice for prisoners was absolutely guaranteed, but added that there were requests from some of the prisoners on specific occasions regarding the use of banners or flags bearing certain slogans, as well as to their desire to assemble in a large number in places and times that are not authorized by law or regulations…”

Entertainment & activities

“…Prisoners could go outside for exercises for two hours a day, according to the law. The new buildings were equipped with playgrounds for football and basketball, Reading rooms were available in some buildings, but some had no books or the books and magazines were old and lacked variety. Prisoners could have more than one book a week but the process to acquire books was not clear to the prisoners or to their families…”

“…Meals were provided at appropriate times and in a timely manner and the quantity was sufficient. The variety and quality needed to be improved. Prisoners could only buy from the store once a month…”

Rehabilitation & educational opportunities

“…The Nasser Vocational Training Center (NVTC) was a good facility with properly equipped classrooms and qualified teachers. It was opened on 17 September 2015 with a capacity of 50 prisoners as a first phase and provided a series of educational and training programmes regardless of age group. Prisoners could enroll for three years and receive an accredited Vocational High School certificate from the Ministry of Education, or do one of a series of short specialized training courses…”

“…The potential of work to occupy prisoners and help to reform and rehabilitate them was therefore greatly under-used. Workshops were varied and included carpentry, painting, electricity, tailoring, drawing, and calligraphy…”

“…There were some helpful rehabilitation programmes, including for drug addicts, but too many prisoners who wanted to enroll could not because there were not enough spaces…”

Transport of prisoners

“…The PDRC team found the process of transporting prisoners from and to JRRC was carried out in a proper and safe manner, but some transportation was delayed due to the late arrival of the security escort, which meant missing court appointments. Prisoners also spent too long in vehicles and could not easily access toilets…”

“…PDRC team found evidence of problems with safety on arrival. Some prisoners said they did not feel safe or had been assaulted on arrival. The prison had discovered some cases of prisoners being physically assaulted and took the necessary legal action about these unacceptable acts. Several staff had been sentenced to imprisonment by the courts as a result…”

Complaints procedure & surveillance

“…Prisoners were not informed of the outcome of complaints and did not therefore believe that there was any outcome. However, PDRC found that some complaints were investigated; this report describes an example of a prisoner complaint, which led management to examine CCTV and discover that a staff member had assaulted a prisoner. The staff member was prosecuted and imprisoned…”

 “…Not all places were covered by the CCTV cameras to deter any abuses and increase security. PDRC was concerned that staff had not been given any proper training on the lawful use of force in a prison. There was no systematic recording of when use of force took place, staff did not complete documentation to justify their actions and PDRC could not therefore examine evidence to provide assurance of the legal and proportionate use of force. This was a risk to prisoners, staff and the management…” 

Younger detainees

“…PDRC observed there was a shortage in staff training in dealing with prisoners according to their age groups and needs. A list of prisoners with special needs and disabilities was available but there were no written procedures for dealing with them or special provision for meeting their needs…”

“…Most younger prisoners were held in new buildings at the Dry Dock Detention Centre, but a total of 21 prisoners aged from 15 to 21 years old were in JRRC for the purpose of completing education and training courses. They were separated from older prisoners…”

Psychological support & self-harm

“…PDRC team found that the medical team was knowledgeable and well aware of psychiatric health issues, but there were limits in dealing with them, particularly due to the shortage of psychiatrists…”  

“…Some staff did not know how to manage the risk of self-harm and did not receive regular training on procedures for prisoners who might be at risk of self-harm or suicide, or a risk to other prisoners or to staff. Evacuation procedures and maintenance of emergency equipment were not good enough…”

Healthcare

“…Prisoners were able to see physicians and able to access physical healthcare through the medical clinic or referral to public hospitals, whenever they needed treatment. Medical staff were knowledgeable but lacked specialized training…”

“…There were some delays in responding to emergency cases or when transporting the prisoners outside JRRC because the ambulance driver was not always available… The clinic lacked a complaints system and medical evaluation and oversight…”

“…PDRC team found that medication for common cases generally required by prisoners were available and medication used to assist in the recovery or healing from alcohol or narcotics addiction withdrawal symptoms were provided safely, securely, and dispensed in a timely way…”

Recommendations

1. The replacement of old buildings should be completed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the conditions in some old buildings should be improved. 

2. Ministry of Health should provide adequate healthcare that meets the needs of all prisoners for safe and respectful care, in coordination with JRRC the allocation of a new building for a medical clinic should be speeded up, issues with medicine prescriptions and storage of medicines should be rectified.

3. Evacuation procedures should be understood by all staff, emergency equipment should be maintained. A qualified paramedic ambulance driver should always be available for emergencies. 

4. There should be enough education, work and other activities to occupy prisoners purposefully and help them to participate in society after release. The Ministry of Education should coordinate with JRRC administration to provide education for all prisoners who need and want it.

5. Safety and accountability should be enhanced by more surveillance cameras in all the buildings, walk paths and wings. There should be written rules that determine the walkways for prisoners. The paths should be fully covered by surveillance cameras.

6. Staff should be trained on practical procedures to use legal force inside the prison and on risk assessment and management plans. All use of force should be properly documented. 

7. A clear and specific system for complaints, grievance and the protection of complainants should be set up. The system should include written guidelines that define the steps and methods to make complaints as well as details on how to deal with complaints and inform the complainant about the outcome. Privacy and follow up should be ensured at all stages.

8. Staff should be trained to deal with prisoners in all age groups and with special needs such as disability. The rights and care of young prisoners (15-18) should be especially considered. 

9. Waiting areas for prisoners should be allocated at courts.

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