Portuguese prisons among the worst in EU

PORTUGUESE PRISONS are overcrowded, unsanitary breeding grounds for HIV and hepatitis, according to Amnesty International. Seventeen per cent of prisoners still have to use a bucket and ‘slop out’, rather than having access to a toilet, says the Portuguese branch of the human rights watchdog.

“The same problems that we identified in 2005 persist,” complains Amnesty’s Cláudia Pedra. “We have been trying to solve the problem of overcrowding but the numbers remain the same,” she explained.

Recently, the prisoners’ rights organisation, Forum Prisões, made the same complaints to the Minister of Justice, which said it plans to shut down nine of the oldest prisons and replace them with new detention centres. Cláudia Pedra declined to comment whether she thought closing down prisons would be a solution, but said it was an urgent necessity in order to resolve the problems that continued to blight detention centres.

“Thirty per cent of our prisoners are infected with hepatitis and 14 per cent have HIV. The overcrowding in Portugal’s prisons has continued, despite some new prisons being opened in recent years,” she said.

Violence, lack of space and lack of hygiene torment inmates, and the various epidemics are a symptom of the poor conditions. There are currently 2,325 people in preventative custody, while a third of those individuals who died in prison had been in preventative custody awaiting trial. A total of 55 people died in prison in 2005, and the causes of death were not released. “The prison authorities failed to provide us with reasons for the cause of death,” Cláudia Pedra added.