Black report on incarceration issues

Páll Winkel the Director General of the Prison and Probation …

Páll Winkel the Director General of the Prison and Probation Administration and Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir Minister of Justice at the meeting. mbl.is/Árni Sæberg

Þorsteinn Ásgrímsson

Various aspects of the operations and work environment of the Prison and Probation Administration fare lacking, which is why the Icelandic system of enforcement is not operated with the efficiency or effectiveness that the law requires. No comprehensive policy has been developed in the field of enforcement and the operation of the Prison and Probation Administration has been heavy, which has resulted in under-care and cumulative maintenance needs of prisons. Shortening of the list of summons is also poorly performed and will continue to be the case. These are among the findings of a new administrative audit of the Prison and Probation Administration by the Icelandic National Audit Office (INAO).

The report states that many factors in the institution’s operations cause the situation of enforcement in Iceland to be poor. Criticism is expressed that the Ministry of Justice has not developed a comprehensive policy in the field of enforcement, but of nine suggestions submitted by the State Audit Office in the report, four relate to the development of a comprehensive policy directed to the Ministry of Justice.

Use of detention spaces could be better

The institution’s heavy operations are pointed out in the report, although it is noted that the Ministry of Justice has supported the Prison and Probation Administration’s call for additional funds.

This heavy operation has been reflected in, among other things, the under-staffing of most areas of the institution, which has resulted in a relatively low utilization of detention spaces. This has resulted in poor results in shortening the list of appointments.

The Director General in Litla-Hrauni today.

The Director General in Litla-Hrauni today. mbl.is/Árni Sæberg

Workplace culture could be better

The report cites strong evidence that prisons’ workplace culture is at a disadvantage and that this needs to be addressed. It mentions that the implementation of the shortened work week was in many ways inadequate and resulted in considerable cost increases due to overtime and increased strain on staff, especially prison guards, which is contrary to the objectives of the project. Furthermore, this increased overtime has increased the level of stress within the profession.

The findings also point to the lack of results in staff satisfaction surveys within the institution and the offending education and training of prison guards, which the institution is responsible for.

Real creation of detension rooms is low despite Hólmsheiði

Furthermore, the need to maintain the housing of prisons has been undermined by the heavy operation, as the report states. It is pointed out that despite the establishment of a prison in Hólmsheiði in 2016, the actual increase in detention spaces was low and did not keep up with the ongoing increase in prisoners and the weighting of sentences.

The Icelandic State Audit Office says that the construction history of Litla-Hraun, the largest prison, has never been characterized by a comprehensive or long-term vision of the operation. The operations only partially meet the current requirements for the safety and rehabilitation of prisoners. It is impossible to separate prisoners in a satisfactory manner, which is the main reason why violence and drug use are a persistent problem.

It is stated that the largest building in Litla-Hraun, House 4, which opened in 1995, does not serve its purpose and there are strong indications that it is dilapidated.

The State Audit Office notes that there has been an increase in crime and prison sentences have become longer. This is due to the growing population in Iceland, but also to the increase in organized crime. This has led to longer waiting lists and created increased pressure on the enforcement system. There are examples of sentences being reduced due to this situation.

The prison at Litla-Hraun. The building is in poor shape …

The prison at Litla-Hraun. The building is in poor shape and the building of a new prison on the premises is on the plan. mbl.is/Eggert Jóhannesson

“No specific protection measure for female prisoners”

However, this autumn, it was announced that a new prison should be built on Litla-Hraun instead of undergoing renovation. The Icelandic State Audit Office says that this is a welcome development, but that planning and construction needs to be carefully considered and take into account the long-term needs of the enforcement system.

This means, among other things, that most prisoners today are male, or over 90%. The enforcement system has largely been shaped by this fact, but today, care facilities for women are only in the prison at Hólmsheiði and in the prison at Sogn. The State Audit Office notes that Hólmsheiði has been designed as a safe-term prison and short-term care, however, and it is a questionable measure that women should be kept there for a longer period.

“The State Audit Office believes that the facilities based on gender are inequal and that there is no specific protection measure for female prisoners,” the report states.

In particular, it is noted that the general aim is to achieve a complete gender segregation and the State Audit Office considers that the Ministry of Justice’s ideas on the expansion of the prison at Sogn since September are not fully in line with the Ombudsman’s recommendations in this regard.

The prison at Hólmsheiði was taken into use in 2016, …

The prison at Hólmsheiði was taken into use in 2016, but it is still not sufficient in providing detension spaces for the growing population and the rise in crimes and longer sentencing. mbl.is/Árni Sæberg

Overseeing of real estate should be with the Government Property Agency

Most real estate operated by the Prison and Probation Administration is in the custody of the agency itself, but not the Government Property Agency, as is the case with most state property. The report states that this leads to a large amount of time for the directors and administrative staff to this part of the operation and that this is an unfortunate arrangement. The State Audit Office believes that it is better to have the administration and operation of real estate under the Government Property Agency.

Poor documentation and classification and lack of control equipment

The report also criticizes how the Prison and Probation Administration (PMI) manages documentation and data classification, including incidents concerning the safety of prison guards or disciplinary actions. In the opinion of the State Audit Office, this oversight of the PMI limits the effectiveness of improvements that different safety deviations require.

In addition to the shortcomings mentioned above, the report says that the prison's structure is poor, and the lack of general security equipment contributes to the prison's risk factors. Among other things, it is necessary to improve surveillance equipment. "In the opinion of the Prison and Probation Administration, it is urgent to improve camera equipment, and computers, software and other technical equipment are either in their late stages or are incomplete according to audits carried out on these aspects of operation."

Need to promote rehabilitation of prisoners

Finally, the State Audit Office says it is imperative that the prison authorities work with the ministries of health, education and social affairs to form a holistic plan on rehabilitating prisoners in order to decrease re-offending and the return of prisoners to detention

The nine recommendations that the RDA set out in the report are the following, but they are grouped in four depending on where they are directed.

Sogn prison is in many ways different from the other …

Sogn prison is in many ways different from the other prisons in Iceland. The Icelandic National Audit Office says that the expansion plans do not fully meet the recommendations of the Ombudsman of the Icelandic parliament regarding the situation of women in prisons. Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

Remarks to the Ministry of Justice

  1. Improvements are needed of conditions in Litla-Hraun and the construction of new prison needs to take priority. The Icelandic State Audit Office considers it imperative that the Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with the Prison and Probation Administration and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, work rapidly to construct a new prison, as the current housing at Litla-Hraun is extremely poor if not dilapidated. In addition, the poor condition of the older buildings needs to be addressed with regard to possible health-damaging conditions. It is important that the new building meets long-term goals for the needs of the enforcement system, the health and safety of prisoners and staff. The Icelandic State Audit Office considers it imperative that the prison’s operations are disrupted as little as possible during the construction period and that more efficient treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners will be carried out.
  2. The Government Property Agency take over operations of housing. There is every reason to transfer the management and operation of the premises that house the operations of prisons to the Government of Property Agency. According to the Icelandic State Audit Office, the above-mentioned projects should not be part of the core operations of the Prison and Probation Administration, thereby burdening the directors and administrative staff of the Administration. Furthermore, the current arrangements are against the general arrangements for the operation of the State properties. Therefore, it is directed to the Ministry of Justice to review this arrangement.
  3. A comprehensive holistic rehabilitation policy needs to be developed. The State Audit Office encourages the Ministry of Justice to keep its timetables for developing a comprehensive policy in the field of enforcement. The agency reiterates that the involvement of education, health and social authorities is necessary in this context, as the above-mentioned parties have legal obligations in different aspects of rehabilitation of prisoners and preventive measures to reduce the number of returns to prison.
  4. Improvement of the situation of women in prisons. It is imperative that the Ministry of Justice and the Prison and Probation Administration work toward a long-term solution to the detention of female prisoners. Although there are relatively few women who receive sentences without probation, it is not defensible that there are no special detention programs for them. Moreover, female prisoners have a more limited access to jobs, activities and other rehabilitation programs than male prisoners, which must be considered unacceptable.

Remarks to the Prison and Probation Administration

  1. Training and retraining of prison guards should be firmly established. The Prison and Probation Administration is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations concerning the education and training of prison guards. Since the operation of the Prison and Probation Service School in its former form was discontinued in 2014, the education and training of new prison guards does not meet the statutory requirements. There is cause to repeat the consultation with prison guards when making a curriculum. A failure to provide quality professional education in prison guards can threaten the safety of prison guards, prisoners and other personnel involved in prisons.
  2. Prison Directorate needs to step up analysis of safety incidents. The possibilities for analysing safety incidents need to be enhanced by improving the recording and documentation of safety incidents. Because it is difficult to collect reports of safety incidents and identify risk factors, the Prison and Probation Administration does not have the perspective that can be expected for different types of safety incidents and risks. This hinders the effective need analysis of this aspect of the operation.
  3. Workplace culture must be promoted. Employee satisfaction surveys in the past years indicate that there is a need to strengthen the prisons culture and work systematically to increase job satisfaction and job well-being. Indications and other data that the Icelandic National Audit Office has studied confirm that the human resources of the prisons have not been in good shape and it is important that the directors of the prisons respond to this situation.

A remark to the Ministry of Health

  1. Improving the rights of prisoners to health care. There are indications that the service and access to health care for prisoners is inadequate. The State Audit Office directs the Ministry of Health to ensure that communication with prison-service authorities is efficient and access to mental health care for prisoners is secured. It is uncontroversial that the responsibility for health care for prisoners lies with the health-care authorities.

A remark to the Ministry of Education and Children

  1. Working party on prisoners and guards needs to be accelerated. According to the Icelandic National Audit Office, the work of the joint task force of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children and Justice on the content and framework of education for prisoners and inmates has been delayed. The task force, which was appointed in 2020, was scheduled to report in 2021. It was not completed in November 2023. In view of the challenges in the field of education for prisoners and inmates and the Ministry of Justice’s policy-making work in the field of enforcement, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children and Justice are called upon to ensure that the task force finishes its work as soon as possible.

Translation Dóra Ósk Halldórsdóttir doraosk@mbl.is

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