A new BHC project tracks the implementation of the reform in Bulgarian prisons and remand centers

A new project of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee ( BHC) tracks the implementation of the reform in Bulgarian prisons and remand centers. This reform has begun after a series of convictions by the European Court of Human Rights. A special website will collect and provide detailed information on exactly how this reform is being implemented.

The three-year long  project “Evaluation of the Prison Reform in Bulgaria: Legislation and Practice Following the Pilot Judgement of the ECtHR “Neshkov and Others was launched on January 1st 2020. It tracks through different activities and methods if there is and how the reform in Bulgarian places of imprisonment is implemented.  

The project is funded by the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria under the European Economic Area (EEA) Financial Mechanism.

The main goal of the project is to improve the implementation of international human rights standards in remand centers and prisons in Bulgaria. The initiative is a continuation of the BHC’s long-term activity in monitoring the situation in closed institutions, advocating for the respect of the rights of prisoners and empowering vulnerable groups.

Besides tracking the progress of the project, the idea of this website is to offer important information on the penitentiary reform in Bulgaria and prisoners’ rights. National legislation, international standards and case law, reports and data closely related to the order in prisons and remand centers and the process of execution of sentences are now available in one place in the “Library” section of the specialized site in Bulgarian language.

Why is a prison reform needed

In 2015 the European Court of Human Rights delivered the pilot decision in the case of “Neshkov and Others v. Bulgaria”. In it the Court found violations of Article 3 and of Article 13 of the Convention concerning the inhuman and degrading conditions in several Bulgarian prisons and the lack of effective remedies in this respect. Considering the recurrence and persistence of the violations, the Court found that breaches originated in a widespread problem resulting from malfunctioning of the Bulgarian penitentiary system and insufficient safeguards against treatment incompatible with Article 3. Pursuant to this and other decisions of the ECtHR related to imprisonment in our country, in the following years Bulgaria started reforms, including amendments to the penitentiary legislation,  large-scale improvement of the material conditions in the detention centers and prisons. However, despite the partial improvement of the situation, some major problems remain and even deepen.

BHC activities in the project

During the three-year project the specific activities of a BHC team will be:

  • to conduct a multilateral evaluation of the real effect of the practical and legislative measures undertaken by the government after the decision “Neshkov and Others v. Bulgaria“;
  • To  identify existing weaknesses and deficits and outline the areas in which the reform must continue in order to implement the general measures of the European Court of Human Rights;
  • to propose lasting strategic solutions for the full implementation of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights regarding remand centers and prisons.

The project team reminds that prison reform cannot be seen in isolation from criminal justice reform in general, as well as the need to improve crime prevention policies and provide adequate care and treatment to vulnerable groups in the community.

More details about the activities and the project can be read here.

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