Some convicts, who in prison have suffered damage to their health, have sued the state for not showing proper health care. As a result, they have “snatched” damages, amounting to 300 thousand dollars, while another convict expects to receive over 500 thousand USD in damages.
Author: Zylyftar Bregu
Hamide, a woman of average body, tidy, dressed in a sports suit, has just left work in the garden around the house, in the upper part of the town of Delvina. Unclear about the motives of the visit, she feels embarrassed and tries to tidy up the modest waiting room, as she invites us inside.
A few tens of kilometers further, in Saranda, Rahim Proda, a doctor for three decades, is verifying the files of the next candidates for disability at the Social Insurance Institute of this city. While Migest Abazi in Tepelena insists that we hold the meeting on Sunday, because on Monday he enters the regime in the morning (this is the name of the part of the prison, where the days of sentencing are extended), in Bënçë Prison, to serve sick in this prison.
Everyone’s lives seem to live separately from each other, but their fates (and those of the other two nurses) are shared by Bledar Ruçi, who is currently serving his sentence in Peqin prison.
The story begins about a decade ago, but it looks like it will close a decade later, as if to prove that the past holds the future hostage.
It seems like a saga, embracing most of the wounds of Albanian society in transition; corruption in the justice system, irresponsibility in the health system, and fatality, which in Albania the poor have in abundance.
It all starts in the Saranda detention center, where Bledar Ruçi, arrested on three criminal charges; “Intentional homicide”, “Theft with a weapon”, as well as “Production and possession of weapons and ammunition”, was awaiting trial since April 30, 2013.
Three months after his arrest, on July 30, 2013, Bledar started complaining about his health, but, in the first moment, as happens in most cases, when the complaints of convicts are judged as a tactic to break the routine, going to the doctor, Bledar was recommended to calm down, because it might help to lower the “fever”.
For five days in a row, his complaints and requests for specialized, health treatment were handled by the part-time doctor of the Saranda detention center, Rahim Proda, and by the assistant doctors of this prison (according to the shifts), Gazmend Sulo, Migest Abazi and Gentian Shameti.
“After receiving information from the nurses, after two or three days, we took him to the hospital with a problem that for our clinical eye was not to be evaluated to the maximum, in the sense that he did not have to be urgently hospitalized,” recalls with difficulty, after nine years Dr. Proda.
As they hoped to improve, Ruçi’s health deteriorated. After five days of treatment with modest prison medication, as well as a visit to the civil hospital of Saranda, in serious condition, the detainee left for the Prison Hospital in Tirana.
“I thought my son was in Saranda. I went to meet him and they were not telling me. Then I was told that there was a problem and he left for Tirana. When I got to Tirana and found the boy in that condition, paralyzed and not moving, I started crying, like we usually do in our region“, – Hamide shows the stress of those moments, accompanying the last part with a thin smile, feeling embarrassed about her behavior in Tirana.
After the first shock, Hamide started the battle to restore the boy’s health and to punish those responsible. Some media reactions have been enough to denounce the case. Then she went to the Ombudsman, claiming that the boy had suffered facial paralysis and loss of vision only as a result of the negligence of the correction facility in Saranda.
The Ombudsman launched an investigation. Among other actions, he asked the Institute of Forensic Medicine for an expertise to verify whether there was negligence in the treatment of the detainee. Further still, to find out if the negligence in treatment was the cause for the consequence (health damage), as well as to categorize the injuries caused by the delayed and inappropriate treatment of the detainee. Experts, Dr. Zija Ismaili and Dr. Elmas Shaqiri, in the forensic act no. 1 521, provided the following answers: “ In the medical treatment of the citizen Bledar Ruçi, it is ascertained that the medical staff, who are on duty, did not provide assistance, at the moment when the assistance was requested. As a result of not providing assistance, he has suffered serious damage to his health.”
With this expert report in hand, Hamide, who had already found a lawyer, held her hopes in the Administrative Court of Gjirokastra. “I needed the money to cure the boy,” says Hamide, who does not hide the pleasure of receiving compensation.
The court requested an additional expert report, which confirmed that Bledar Ruçi has suffered serious, permanent damage in the amount of 50 percent. This categorization served as the main argument for the court to approve the request of Hamide (her lawyer). This categorization has gone through a complicated arithmetic and logical formula, according to the claim for compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, out-of-contract; so the court, on April 10, 2017, decided that the General Directorate of Prisons must pay the amount of 23,574,66.17 ALL (about two hundred thousand euros) to the convict Bledar Ruçi for the damage he was caused, by not providing medical assistance.
The General Directorate of Prisons has appealed this decision to the Administrative Court of Appeal in Tirana. Within two years, despite the large flow of files that it had, the Court of Appeals has judged it with decision no. 1350, dated 02.05.2019, has upheld the decision of the Administrative Court of First Instance of Gjirokastra. In addition to the speed of the trial is the fact that the decision is not available online, like any other file. Meanwhile, the Administrative Court of Appeal rejected our request to provide a copy of this decision.
With this decision in hand, Hamide addressed the General Directorate of Prisons.
“I have written several times to the Director General of Prisons and the Minister of Justice,” recalls Hamide. – I needed the money to cure the boy. Prison can not be afforded,” she added.
Five months after the decision of the Court of Appeals, the General Director of Prisons, Agim Ismaili, has ordered the payment of the first installment of compensation to the bailiff company, BESA sh. p. k .
According to reliable sources, the Director of Finance at the General Directorate has hesitated and even refused to make the payment, but Director Ismailaj has ordered and signed the payment in two installments, the first installment of more than 80 thousand euros, on September 18. 2019 and the rest, on November 20, 2019. “I would be equally criticized, even if I did not pay it” , – this is the only comment of Mr. Ismaili, already dismissed as General Director of Prisons.
One day after signing the payment of the first installment, the General Director, Agim Ismaili, denounced for criminal prosecution in the Saranda Prosecutor’s Office the four nurses and the doctor, who were employed in the Saranda detention center, at the time when he suffered paralysis the detainee, in 2013, on charges of abuse of office, committed in collaboration, as well as wrongful treatment.
The Prosecution has not launched an investigation into this charge at all, because the criminal offense of wrongful treatment was statute-barred, so time had passed, more than their sentence was foreseen, if they were found guilty, while for the second charge, abuse of office, they were missing elements of the offense.
After failing with the criminal lawsuit, the General Directorate of Prisons took the doctors to the Civil Court of Saranda, requesting that the four of them return to the General Directorate of Prisons the amount of 260 million ALL (ie, because the decision of the tax for the bailiff company was added to the court, as well as the bank interests from the moment of issuing the decision until its execution; about 220 thousand euros). The court accepted the request of the General Directorate of Prisons and sentenced the doctor Rahim Proda to return 2 million (new) ALL to the state, as well as the nurses, Gentian Shameti, Migest Abazi and Gazmend Sulo, with 1 million (new) ALL each. The decision did not leave any party satisfied, because both the penaliezd doctors and the General Directorate of Prisons appealed to the Civil Court of Appeal in Gjirokastra. “Corruption in large figures“, – says doctor Rahim Proda, who does not hide his despair and sadness for the situation where he is.
To the question of how much money ended up in the boy’s account, Hamide answers with the logic that started this process: “I would not take that money myself. Those who helped me got their share.”
Prisons, millions of ALL for the damaged health of convicts
Bledar Ruçi is not the only convict who has found the mechanism and the right people to put the state “with the back against the wall”. He seems to be the most successful or the luckiest.
Erida Skëndaj, Executive Director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, claims that they often receive complaints regarding delays in providing health care. “Often these delays cause health to deteriorate,” she said, noting structural deficiencies in the prison health system.
The investigation shows that some other convicts claim that their health has been damaged by negligence (at best), white shirts, working in prison and have sought compensation from the Albanian state for what is considered property damage , physical harm and moral harm. The figures are alarming, they exceed the amount of 1 million euros.
The former mayor of Rrethina in Shkodra, Kleves Muja, is one of them. Muja was arrested by the police in June 2012. The leaders of the Lezha prison violate the regulations and place Muja in the same building as Xheladin Kruja. The two had had a quarrel outside the prison. On June 4, Muja, after meeting his family members, as he was entering the cell, was stabbed from Kruja with a dagger (handcrafted in prison), straight in the eye.
“I thought he died on us, because he fell on his head, unconscious,” said one of the police officers, who was present at the time and is still in the prison system.
Muja was sent to the hospital in Lezha and from there to Tirana, where he stayed for more than 15 months, most of the time in resuscitation. While he was escaping death day by day from the care of doctors, the Lezha Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation, not only for the perpetrator, Xheladin Kruja, but also for the prison staff, who had abused their duty. An administrative investigation was launched for the latter inside the prison. At the end of both investigations and with an expert report, which concluded that the prisoner could no longer stand (he was only in a wheelchair), and that he could not perform any actions necessary for his body, Muja’s family members addressed the Administrative Court of Tirana.
The latter, in combination with compensation for pecunairy and non pecuniary damages, has ordered the General Directorate of Prisons to pay the injured party more than 500 thousand dollars (500 million old ALL). This decision was upheld by the Administrative Court of Appeal in Tirana, on July 6, 2018. However, the General Directorate of Prisons has requested the Supreme Court to suspend the decision taken by the two previous courts. The lawyers of the General Directorate of Prisons hope to reduce the compensation, not to remove it completely. But, in the meantime, the interest of the indemnity measure increases. So far, the amount has surmounted to 580 thousand USD.
In addition to Muja, several other cases are being tried in the Administrative Court of Appeals, which in the Administrative Court of First Instance obliged the General Directorate of Prisons to pay hundreds of millions of ALL for negligence in the treatment of convicts.
Napolon Luca, arrested for attempted theft, hanged himself in detention, in Tirana, on February 18, 2017, in the isolation cell where he was placed, after he had quarreled with his brother, also detained for another criminal offense. The lawyer, Aurora Marku, managed to convince the court that the employees, who administer the detention center No. 302, have shown irresponsibility, negligence and violation of the regulation. The Court of First Instance has sentenced the Directorate of Prisons with about 200 million old lek (about 200 thousand dollars), as compensation for the relatives of the self-hanged convict.
Flamur Sula was “baked” alive in his cell in Lezha prison, on July 30, 2016, when 14 gas cylinders exploded, which the prison administration had allowed him to bring inside, violating the regulations. The relatives again took the case to the Administrative Court of First Instance, which asked the General Directorate of Prisons to pay the family members of Flamur 270 million old lek (260 thousand dollars).
The Administrative Court of Tirana obliged the Albanian state to compensate the convict Agim Bualli, for whom the Court of Fier has ordered that the execution of the decision be done in a special health institution and not in prison. His family members will receive about 60 million (old) lek (60 thousand dollars), for the inhuman treatment towards him.
For the same reason as the convict Bualli, the European Court of Human Rights sentenced the Albanian state to pay the convict Arben Strazimi the amount of 17,500 euros.
The costs and invoices for the state have added up over time.
Doctors refuse to serve in prisons
The “flight”of white shirts started initially from the prison system, then continued in civilian hospitals.
“The specifics of patients, who are in specific living conditions, as well as the low salary, make this sector unpopular for doctors” , – says a doctor engaged in one of the prisons of the capital.
The figures show a grim situation. The General Directorate of Prisons, in fulfillment of the right to information, declares that out of 53 doctors, which should be in the staff throughout the system, there are only 28 full-time doctors, 20 doctors are engaged part-time, while there are still five vacancies.
Out of 159 nurses that are needed, there are 151 nurses at work.
This whole army of white shirts has to take care of 1400 convicts, who are chronically ill, and hundreds of others who have temporary illnesses.
The situation becomes more serious if we enter the profile analysis of doctors who care about the health of convicts. For example, in the prison of Durrës, although there are two psychiatrists on staff, currently there is only one, who has to withstand the workload of two. There is also no psychiatrist in Peqin prison. Even in Fier the psychiatrist is on part-time basis.