Sentenced to death in Turkish jails

Sentenced to death in Turkish jails

The Justice Ministry recently announced that there are 387 inmates in Turkey’s prisons with serious illnesses. Of these inmates, 114 are suffering from cancer.

Did you know that more than 300 prisoners die every year in Turkey? Indeed, almost every day a coffin comes out of our prisons. They say it is fate, but it is not exactly like that...

In terms of hospitals in Turkish prisons, there are only 50-bed capacity hospitals in five campus-style prisons. Prisons with a capacity of 1,000 inmates or more have a kind of “family doctor” system. In this system, twice a week a doctor comes to the hospital to examine prisoners for a total of 12 hours. These hospitals have no doctors ready for emergency interventions. 

It is not even so easy to benefit from the visit of the doctor who comes twice a week. An inmate first needs to write an application. These applications then get listed. If there are too many requests an inmate sometimes has to wait two or three weeks to see a doctor, regardless of whether it is an emergency.

As for the doctors, they have a heavy responsibility, having only a few minutes to talk with inmate patients and diagnose them.

Berivan Korkut, who works at an NGO focusing on prisons, says many complaints come from inmates who are simply given painkillers or anti-depressants by doctors without a proper medical examination.

There are cases where inmates leave prison with serious illnesses or die a few weeks after they are released because there has been no serious medical examination.

Being sent to prison hospital is a separate problem. “Let’s say you have both a heart problem and a kidney problem,” says Korkut, “you can be told by the prison authorities that you cannot go to the hospital twice because you have already gone for one of the problems.”

The doctor also needs to think about the number of vehicles being used when deciding who to send to hospital; after all, these vehicles are not only used for the transport of inmates, but also for all other prison errands.

“One inmate told us he was not sent to hospital. He had to take a certain medicine but because he could only get this medicine through medical reports from hospital he could not get his medicine. Therefore he was forced to take a lot of painkillers and ended up getting poisoned,” said Mustafa Eren, from the same NGO.

“We called the administration of the prison. They told us ‘there are 2,000 inmates here, 800 are waiting to go to hospital. This person is 500th on the list.’ So it is obvious that the situation is insufficient,” he added.

The vehicles are themselves in a very poor condition, Eren also said. They are icy cold in winter and very hot in the summer. Up to 12 inmates travel or wait in them for many hours to go to the hospital with their hands cuffled.

Hospitals ‘worse than prisons’
Meanwhile, a particularly horrible process starts when a doctor decides that an inmate should stay in hospital. Inmates are put in remote rooms in the basement of hospitals widely called “the prison cell” during their treatment. Most inmates say they would rather go back to prison than stay in these dreaded cells after their operation.

So bad are these cells, some university hospitals even avoid opening a “prison cell” in order to avoid damaging their image.

So there are just some of the serious human rights violations we see when talking about the rights of sick inmates.

It seems urgent that the state should either release particularly sick inmates or seek an alternative in which inmates can serve their sentence nearer to their families while receiving treatment.

If nothing is done, many prisoners will not only be serving their jail term – they will also be facing a death sentence.