“The need to reform the penitentiary system has been enshrined as a matter of national importance by the Bulgarian authorities. Our efforts to handle with the issues identified by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) at the places for deprivation of liberty are ongoing. We accept your recommendations as objective; they helps us eliminate deficiencies identified.” This is what Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva said today at a working meeting with CPT President Mr. Mykola Gnatovskyy. The meeting at the Ministry of Justice was attended by Dr. Clive Meux, CPT Forensic Psychiatrist and Expert, Ms. Dalia Zukauskiene, CPT Secretariat Member, Prof. Nikolay Prodanov, Deputy Justice Minister, and Chief Commissar Vasil Miladinov, Director General, Directorate General Execution of Punishment (DGEP).

The CPT President thanks the Ministry of Justice and DGEP for the open dialogue and the good cooperation. He also stated that the CPT appreciated highly the progress achieved in certain aspects of reforms in the penitentiary system and confirmed that the CPT position that it was ready to assist Bulgaria in overcoming the difficulties.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the measures undertaken by the Bulgarian authorities to implement the recommendations in the CPT report from the visit to Bulgaria in the autumn of 2017 and to encourage further the cooperation between the Bulgarian authorities and the CPT. Minister Tsacheva reviewed the situation at the time detailing the measures taken which could be generally divided into legislative, practical and conceptual. Note was made of the plans to build a training center and a pilot prison close to Sofia. The Justice Minister also raised the topic of the condition of Sofia Prison and the two largest detention facilities in the country – those in Sofia on G.M. Dimitrov Boulevard and on Major Vekilski Boulevard. Options are being explored to respond to the recommendations for these places, the Minister shared and added that it was a matter in the spotlight of the Government’s attention to which a resolution was being sought.

The role of the Strategy and Action Plan to improve the medical care in prisons with respective staff training was also emphasized at the meeting.

As regards the improvement of the infrastructure in the places for deprivation of liberty, short-term activities were outlined: the new detention facilities built on the territory of Sliven Prison for 40 detainees which are to be launched in April, the new detention facilities in Stara Zagora Prison for 56 detainees to be completed by the end of the month, the ongoing renovation works at the main building of Pazardzhik Prison which will improve the detainees’ living conditions significantly, etc.

The visits of the Council of Europe delegation to Bulgaria continues with working meetings with other institutions.