Record overcrowding: Geneva prison is a pressure cooker

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"The cells foreseen for one person are occupied by three people. It is not possible to live in these conditions and to share such a small space, not to mention the problems of language and religion", one detainee told us. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture has just published its report on Champ-Dollon Prison. In it the Commission states that it is "very concerned about the problem of overcrowding" and demands that urgent remedial action be taken. At the time of its visit in June 2012, the prison housed 671 inmates. Today that number has surpassed the 750 mark, including some 20 women.

Overcrowding is chronic and the creation of 100 additional places, which increased to 376 the official capacity, has had virtually no effect: prisoners sleep on the floor; the kitchen, originally planned for 270 inmates, is antiquated and inadequate; and it takes days or weeks to see a doctor or social worker, or to call family from the single available prison telephone. This overcrowding coupled with the unsanitary conditions greatly increases the risk of violence among inmates, or against prison staff, and the risk of mutiny.

Promiscuity between men and women – and between accused and convicted inmates – is also a source of tension. Although Champ-Dollon is a remand prison for persons awaiting trial, 200 inmates are serving their sentences there after other Swiss penitentiary facilities refused to accommodate them due to lack of space (!).

The Commission of Official Visitors from the Geneva Parliament (Grand Conseil), whose membership includes the APT Vice-President and Treasurer, Renaud Gautier, recently described the situation as "explosive", and asked to meet urgently with the Geneva State Councilor in charge of security, Pierre Maudet. The Commission and its federal counterpart both welcome the perspective of a new prison being built in the Canton of Geneva by 2017, and highlight the efforts made by the prison staff. However, interim measures must be taken in order to remedy the problem and prevent a disaster.

Access the CPT reports on Switzerland

The NCPT report on Champ-Dollon (French)

Website of the Commission of Official Visitors from the Geneva Parliament (French)