Prison Conditions in Czechoslovakia

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In 1989, Helsinki Watch severely criticized conditions in the Czech prison system. The criticism was in a report prepared by Professor Herman Schwartz, Chairman of the Human Rights Watch Prison Project Advisory Committee, and was based on numerous interviews in early 1988 with recently released prisoners. After the November 1989 revolution and in response to the report, the Czech and Slovak governments invited Helsinki Watch to inspect prisons in the Czech and Slovak Republics. The results of the inspection were very encouraging. In 1988, whatever could be wrong with a prison system, could be found in the Czech system. Severe overcrowding, brutality and exploitation of every variety, inhumane living and working conditions, miserable medical care - all were reportedly there, and more. Things have dramatically changed. Although many problems remain, ranging from outmoded and inadequate physical facilities to continuing staff-inmate hostility and still unacceptable working conditions, most of the worst evils are gone. Perhaps even more encouraging is the attitude of the prison administrators who, like many prison authorities in other formerly Communist-dominated countries, seem genuinely committed to creating and maintaining a humane prison system. Nevertheless, serious problems remain and will be explored in the course of this report. Because problems remain, and because the prison authorities are eager to create a modern system that will be both efficient and humane, Helsinki Watch and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, together with the Czech and Slovak Ministries of Justice, are convening a conference and workshop in Czechoslovakia in 1991 that will bring prison experts from North America and Western Europe together with Czech and Slovak prison officials to discuss ways to modernize and humanize the Czechoslovak prison systems.

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