Ground-breaking lawsuit targets living conditions at post-penal psychiatric facility
♦ A client of the HFHR (to protect his anonymity, we’ll call him Joe in this article) has filed a lawsuit against the State Treasury, seeking damages for violations of personal interests and the cessation of further violations, which arise from the living conditions at the National Centre for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviours.
♦ In his lawsuit, Joe complains in particular that the Centre impedes his contact with his family, does not provide adequate health care, unlawfully applies direct coercive measures against him and alleges that the room in which he stays had been overcrowded for a prolonged period.
♦ The HFHR conducts the case as part of its Strategic Litigation Programme and the client is represented pro bono by Piotr Golędzinowski and Łukasz Lasek, lawyers of Wardyński i Wspólnicy.
The National Centre for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviours was established in 2014. The Centre is a post-penal detention facility whose inmates are persons deemed to pose a threat to society due to their mental disorders which nature or intensity indicates at least a very high probability of them committing a serious offence punishable by at least 10 years of imprisonment. This means that the Centre’s inmates are detained after serving a prison sentence for previously committed offences.
The law that introduced the Centre gave rise to significant controversy. Its critics pointed out that the grounds for the placement at the Centre were unclear, and that the detention in the centre, contrary to claims of the law’s drafters, would serve a repressive, not a therapeutic, purpose. Another controversial issue was the fact that the law allowed detention of persons who had been convicted for offences committed before the law’s entry into force. Many commentators believed that this rule violated the prohibition of retroactive application of law. However, in November 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the law establishing the Centre was constitutional.
Initially, the Centre was expected to host a small group of inmates, mainly the offenders condemned to death under the law of Communist Poland, whose sentences were later commuted to 25 years of imprisonment under the 1989 amnesty law. Authorities claimed that the Centre’s inmates would be provided with appropriate conditions, including single rooms. However, it quickly turned out that the number of inmates was much higher; it currently exceeds 60. At the same time, the Centre failed to expand its capacity to accommodate such a large number of detainees at a sufficient pace. Because of this, there were periods when conditions at the Centre could be classified as overcrowding. Moreover, the rights of Centre inmates are subject to many restrictions which have no basis in the statutory law but are only laid down in the Centre’s house rules. The Ombudsman has repeatedly expressed his concerns about the situation in the Centre, which has been also criticised by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).
Joe was placed at the Centre in December 2015 and has remained there ever since.
HFHR makes appearance – lawsuit is brought
Already at the stage of legislative works on the law establishing the Centre for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviours, the HFHR pointed out that the proposed measures might violate constitutional and international human rights standards. The Foundation has also submitted an amicus curiae brief in the proceedings for the constitutional review of the law and represents one of the Centre’s inmates before the European Court of Human Rights.
Joe’s lawsuit seeks an injunction against the State Treasury ensuring cessation of violations of the claimant’s personal interest as well as damages for past violations. Joe also filed for an interim relief requesting the Centre’s authorities to take certain actions to prevent the violations of his rights during the proceedings.
The Foundation’s client points out that his dormitory room has approximately 27 square metres out of which a little more than 12 square metres is the available living space. Meanwhile, the number of inmates living in the room, including Joe, ranged from 6 to 8, depending on the period in question. According to Joe’s lawsuit, such conditions can be considered as amounting to overcrowding and violating his right to privacy and intimacy.
Joe also alleges that the Centre’s personnel unreasonably interfered with his privacy during the visits of his wife and daughter. The visits always take place in the presence of a security guard. Any physical contact is forbidden. Furthermore, each visit is followed by a body check, carried out by the Centre’s security personnel and recorded by the monitoring devices. These measures are used without a statutory basis.
The inmates of the Centre must take part in therapeutic activities, which include psychotherapy sessions during which their sexual life is discussed. The HFHR client complains that personal confessions made during such interviews are inadequately protected, as they are recorded in notes accessible to all Centre’s personnel.
Joe also maintains that the Centre authorities have for several years prevented him from undergoing a medical procedure to remove the intramedullary rod he had implanted already in 2015 after an injury. The presence of the rod causes pain and discomfort that impedes Joe’s everyday activities.