Turkish legislation on prisons constantly changes, problems and complaints keep increasing

Turkish legislation on prisons constantly changes, problems and complaints keep increasing

Turkey, which leads Europe in the number of prisoners, has administration and observation boards composed of non-independent individuals acting like courts and deciding the duration of prisoners' incarceration

Cafer Solgun

The conditions in Turkish prisons have always been a multifaceted problem. Despite frequent changes in the execution law and related legislation, problems persist and complaints from prisoners and their families are on the rise. This raises the question of the need and mindset behind these legislative changes.

Under the law, prisoners, whose freedom is restricted as a result of being convicted of crimes, should not be subjected to inhumane treatment that violates human dignity during their incarceration. They should be prepared for reintegration into society in a manner that respects universal legal norms, without discrimination. Turkey, a party to numerous international conventions, is obligated to uphold these standards.

A contemporary understanding of prison execution, respecting human rights and freedoms, includes judicial oversight mechanisms to address injustices, torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary punishments that prisoners may face. The principles of legality, justice, equality, the right to self-defense, and living with dignity are fundamental in this regard.

For instance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted in 1966 and effective since 1976, with Turkey among its 167 signatory countries, stipulates in Article 10 that "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person." This article emphasizes rehabilitation and social reintegration as key objectives of the penal system.

Recent legislative changes have not advanced prisoners' rights

The Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CISST) recently published a book titled "Comparison of Changes in Execution Legislation (2018-2023)." Authored by lawyers Ozan Başdinç and Ruken Altun, and edited by lawyer Kader Tunç, the book examines whether the changes between 2018 and 2023 have resolved issues within the prison system. The authors aimed to provide a perspective on whether the justice system has become more humane and prisoner-focused.

Lawyer Ozan Başdinç noted the substantial number of changes in the execution legislation during this period. "We anticipated a broad scope, but the extent of changes, including 13 laws, 1 decree-law, and 2 Constitutional Court decisions, surprised us," he said. Başdinç highlighted the difficulty in tracking these changes, particularly for prisoners with limited access to information.

Turkey ranks first in Europe in prisoner numbers

Lawyer Kader Tunç highlighted the increase in the number of prisoners in Turkey between 2018 and 2023. According to the Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Houses, the prisoner count rose from 264,842 in 2018 to 292,282 in 2023. Turkey has the highest number of prisoners in European prisons. The Council of Europe's 2022 Penal Statistics Report indicates that Turkey accounts for one-third of the total prison population in the Council's 48 member states.

Reducing the number of prisoners and ensuring humane conditions requires effective prison policies, not just changes in execution law. The study focused on prisoners' rights and whether they are recognized as rights holders. It highlighted frequent changes in regulations concerning prisoners' rights and responsibilities, such as funeral leave permissions and conditional releases.

International standards and conventions, such as the United Nations Convention against Torture, Nelson Mandela Rules, Bangkok Rules, Beijing Rules, Yogyakarta Principles, and Istanbul Protocol, set minimum standards for treatment in prisons. Tunç emphasized that these international legal frameworks are often disregarded in legislative changes.

Evaluation criteria of Administration and Observation Boards are arbitrary

Lawyer Ruken Altun, from CISST, noted that many complaints they receive involve the evaluations of Administration and Observation Boards. These boards, comprising non-independent individuals, act like courts and influence the duration of prisoners' incarcerations. Altun criticized their use of non-legal, abstract criteria, particularly in the case of political prisoners, and highlighted absurd examples of criteria used for evaluation, such as the number of books borrowed from the library or participation in non-existent prison activities.

Background Information:

Cafer Solgun is a prominent Turkish journalist known for his writings on human rights, particularly in the context of prison conditions and the penal system in Turkey.
Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CISST) is a prominent Turkish NGO focusing on the rights of prisoners and improving conditions within the penal system in Turkey.
International Conventions: Turkey is a signatory to several international conventions that set standards for the treatment of prisoners, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, and the European Convention on Human Rights. These conventions stipulate standards for humane treatment and respect for the dignity of prisoners.
Administration and Observation Boards: These are bodies within the Turkish prison system responsible for overseeing various aspects of prison administration, including decisions related to prisoner conduct and eligibility for certain rights or privileges. Their composition and decision-making processes have been criticized for lacking transparency and independence.


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