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The Bulgarian prison system has not been a focus of attention for any of the governments in the last few decades. As a result, the buildings continue to be in a deplorable state and the living and sanitary conditions in the prisons where the cells are without sanitary facilities are unspeakable.
The penitentiary institutions in Bulgaria are largely obsolete, insanitary, overcrowded, and have substantial deficits in the provision of security and medical care. Most existing prisons and detention centres are housed in old buildings, the dire state of which, despite attempts at renovation, cannot meet international standards for treatment of prisoners. The construction of new facilities in the majority of locations (including the prisons in Pleven, Varna, and Burgas) is the only solution to the gravest problems – overcrowding and obsoleteness. Although the report issued following the visit of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in 2008 urged Bulgarian authorities ‘to step up their efforts to improve the situation’, improvements remain intangible.
Prisons are isolated from the national healthcare system in terms of facility standards, administration, provision of medical check-ups, statistics, prophylactics, and preventive care. Most medical centres within the prisons fail to meet the requirements of the Medical Institutions Act. Substance (heroin) abuse is reportedly on the rise and the lack of relevant statistics produces deplorable neglect of the issue.
The living conditions in investigation detention facilities (IDFs) are also poor. The detention centres in Gabrovo, Petrich, Slivnitsa, and Pazardzhik are located underground, their cells have no windows, and detainees are designated a living area of less than a square metre per person. At the same time, the number of detainees nationwide is rapidly increasing, especially in IDFs in several big cities, with the number of detainees exceeding the capacity of the cells. So far the appalling conditions in the detention centres have given the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg reason to rule against Bulgarian in a significant number of cases. However, even this has not encouraged the government to initiate measures to make these conditions more humane.
You can read more on the refugee and asylum seeker problematic in BHC’s annual report and in the sections below.