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Overcrowding an impediment to implementing remand custody in Vantaa Prison

Deputy-Ombudsman calls for better cooperation between police and prison

Vantaa Prison is permanently overcrowded, legal officers from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman discovered on an inspection visit there in October. This is one of the reasons why remand prisoners are being kept in unsatisfactory premises in the Vantaa Police Prison.

In the view of Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja, overcrowding in Vantaa Prison is making it difficult and in part impossible to implement the purpose of remand custody.

The Deputy-Ombudsman had begun looking into the reasons why there are so many remand prisoners in the Vantaa Police Prison. It had been observed on earlier inspection visits there that remand prisoners had been placed in rooms that were suitable for only a few days' deprivation of liberty. Conditions in the Police Prison reveal shortcomings and are substantially inferior to those in Vantaa Prison.

Another factor mitigating against transferring remand prisoners to Vantaa Prison is that facilities for conducting interviews there are inadequate. Only two rooms have been reserved for this purpose. At the moment, only one of them has computer equipment and a link to the police information system. The prison has been informed that the police do not have the resources for more.

Remand prisoners should not be accommodated in police prisons

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja is of the opinion that remand prisoners should not be accommodated in police prisons, because the circumstances in them are not generally suitable for long-term detention. Remand prisoners spend their time mainly in cells that are in poor condition and, among other things, facilities for washing and opportunities for outdoor exercise are often limited.

In addition, responsibility for investigation and responsibility for detention should be administratively and factually separate. If they are in the same hands, there is the danger that the remand prisoner’s treatment will depend on the progress of the investigation and his or her own attitude to the investigation. At its worst, this can prevent implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has intervened in the same matter. It has found on its visits that the Finnish practice of keeping remand prisoners in police prisons is exceptional, and not acceptable.

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja takes the view that the periods for which remand prisoners are kept in police prisons must be shortened. Responsibility for this resides with all authorities that decide on matters pertaining to remand prisoners. What is the responsibility of the legislator is to decide whether it can be regarded as necessary to bring Finnish legislation into line with the recommendations of international actors. It is largely a question of apportioning resources.

Last year, a working group appointed by the Ministry of Justice to examine remand detention recommended measures to eliminate the problems that arise from remand prisoners being placed in police prisons.

Copies of Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja's decision have been sent to the national Police Board and the Ministry of Justice for their information.

Additional info will be provided by Legal Officer Mikko Eteläpää, tel. (0)9 4321, Eduskunta switchboard.