DE RUEHTI #0633/01 2651252
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221252Z SEP 09 (CCY ADB5F458 MSI6701-632)
FM AMEMBASSY TIRANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8466
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2533 UNCLAS TIRANA 000633
DEPT FOR EUR/SCE; DRL
C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED CAPTION)
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: POST VISITS NOTORIOUS BURREL PRISON AND NEWER KORCA
1. (SBU) Summary: Poloffs traveled to two high-security, remote
prisons in Burrel and Korca recently and had unfettered access to
prison grounds and to the prisoners themselves. Overall, prison
conditions appear to have improved significantly in recent years.
The Directorate of Prisons has made a substantial commitment to
improving treatment and conditions of prisoners and conforming
Albania's detention facilities to European Union standards. End
2. (SBU) Following the release of the 2008 Human Rights Report for
Albania, Director General of Prisons Gazmend Dibra invited Post to
review current prison conditions. Dibra said that the GOA has made
considerable progress in prison management and conditions. In July,
Poloffs chose to visit the notorious Burrel prison, two hours north
of Tirana, which was constructed in the 1930s during the period of
King Zog and used extensively under the communist regime as a
maximum security prison. Poloffs also visited a new prison in
Korca, built in the last two years, which, according to Dibra, is
demonstrative of the direction the Albanian prison system is
heading. The Korca facility was designed and funded by the European
3. (SBU) The very name of Burrel prison evokes powerful and chilling
connotations in Albania. Used extensively throughout the communist
period for the most "dangerous criminals," it retains sinister
cultural associatons. The relatively small, single story facility
is located two hours north of Tirana outside the ity of Burrel.
When Postt visited, 182 inmates wee incarcerated (with a maximum
capacity of 190 imates). A staff of 120 corrections officers keeps
watch and cares for the inmates. Burrel prison i old and Dibra
speculated to Poloffs that he woud close Burrel prison in about a
year and a half
4. (SBU) The very basic concrete prison is divd ed into three areas.
Each rectangular area, about one acre in size, consists of living
quarters at one end, an open yard in the middle and a shower/washing
area at the other end. Prisoners are confined to their cells for 21
hours a day, and are allowed a three hour exercise/fresh air period
in the yard. During their exercise period, prisoners may purchase
sundries and confections at the prison canteen located in the yard.
During Post's visit, Poloffs saw several inmates milling around the
yard. Dibra said that during the hot summer months, inmates are
able to move about for most of the day, in contrast to the general
schedule where they are only allowed three hours a day outside.
There is no specific dining facility, so prisoners eat meals in
their cells. Poloffs entered one of the containment areas and spoke
with several inmates who had been convicted of murder. The
prisoners were friendly and curious to meet Embassy officials. All
of them seemed to recognize Dibra, and thanked him and Poloffs for
improvements in their conditions. As it was a hot day on the visit
and Burrel has no air conditioning, one of the prisoners inquired
about when the GOA would install air conditioning. Dibra demurred.
(Note: Most residences and public buildings in Albania lack air
conditioning, which is considered by most people to be an expensive
luxury. End Note).
5. (SBU) In the yard, Poloffs posed several questions directly to
the inmates including questions relating to physical abuse. The
inmates, who looked well fed and showed no signs of abuse, replied
that they were not in fear of physical abuse. (Note: Poloffs
observed a pay phone in the yard with a toll free number to the
ombudsman posted next to it. End note.) The inmates described the
regulations for family visits, phone privileges, religious
observances and access to attorneys. Interestingly, Dibra said that
the GOA houses inmates, to the extent that it is possible, according
to the region that they are from to promote family visits. During
the visits to both prisons, Poloffs noticed numerous visitors.
6. (SBU) Though Poloffs did not have direct access to the cells at
Burrel prison; they did observe cells through the closed circuit
security monitors. (Note: Prison officials indicated that the cells
remain open in the summer months from 0700 to 1900 for the purposes
of ventilation. End note.) In addition, each cell has a television
with satellite access and a refrigerator where inmates may keep food
stuffs purchased at the prison canteen. Educational opportunities
at Burrel prison were minimal. Burrel prison did have a medical and
dental clinic that was staffed twenty hours hours a day by a
paramedic. Patients requiring significant medical attention are
referred to a local hospital.
7. (SBU) Korca prison is located in eastern Albania near the border
of Macedonia. It is a new facility, and was built with EU funds and
to EU specifications. Korca prison serves as a maximum and medium
security facility. There are separate juvenile pre-trial detention
facilities. The maximum capacity of the prison is 350 inmates, with
a staff of 285. The director was himself imprisoned in Burrel for
several years during communist times for "political" crimes. The
prison has a modern medical and dental clinic which is staffed
around the clock and which inmates may access by request given 24
hours notice, or immediately if an emergency arises. As with Burrel
prison, more serious cases are treated at the local hospital. The
facility has a separate room that serves as an interfaith chapel.
8. (SBU) Most of the uniformed prison staff at Korca prison were
hired within the past year, and were still on probationary status.
Each corrections officer receives 45 days of formal training, and
then remains on probationary status until he completes one year of
employment. In general, the corrections officers at Korca appeared
to be young and professionally trained. As with Burrel prison, each
inmate receives a three hour exercise/fresh air period in the yard.
Inmates are entitled to two phone calls per week, and this privilege
is respected, according to both inmates and prison staff with whom
poloffs spoke. Family members are permitted to visit four times a
month. Poloffs viewed private rooms where conjugal visits occur.
Attorney visits were in general unrestricted. According to Dibra,
emphasis is put on education, and Poloffs observed two young female
teachers walking through the prison unescorted to class.
9. (SBU) During Poloffs' tour of the premises, one burly prisoner
yelled repeatedly through the bars of his cell to Director Dibra.
The prisoner complained that the guards had revoked several of his
privileges for infractions and he thought the punishment unjust. He
was candid in his criticisms, but at the same time was friendly and
offered Poloffs cigarettes and water through his cell bars. He did
not appear to exhibit any fear that his loud complaining to the
Director would cause any ill treatment later. During the exchange,
Poloffs observed the prisoner's cell, which housed four maximum
security prisoners and had a television with satellite service, and
a refrigerator. The door and outside window were opened to allow for
the circulation of fresh air.
10. (SBU) Poloffs physically inspected the solitary confinement area
and spoke at length with three prisoners detained in the
disciplinary cells. An inmate who is under disciplinary
restrictions is housed alone in a separate unit. These inmates
still receive three hours of exercise and fresh air, but do so
alone, and in a smaller exercise yard. Each solitary cell has a
toilet and sink, and appeared to be sanitary. The inmate's mattress
is removed during the day to increase the austerity of the cell. At
the time of Poloffs' inspection of the disciplinary unit, there
appeared to be about four cells occupied out of a total of an
estimated ten cells. Poloffs estimate that an inmate will spend two
to three weeks in the disciplinary unit, depending on the nature of
the infraction. Inmates housed in the unit have restricted phone,
family visits and religious observance privileges.
11. (SBU) In a separate meeting later with Artur Lazebu of the
Ombudsman's office in Tirana, Lazebu said that his office cooperates
very closely with Dibra. He too noted an overall positive trend for
Albania's prison system, but said that corruption remains a serious
problem. For example, he said sometimes prisoners are able to bribe
their way out of prison for a few days of freedom. Lazebu said that
his office has received no complaints from Burrel prison this year
and approximately 20 from Korca. The complaints concerned
everything from food to fighting.
12. (SBU) The visits to these two prisons were brief, planned a week
in advance, and under the direct escort of the prison director.
Nonetheless, Poloffs did not have the impression that conditions
were staged or choreographed. Poloffs had broad access to prisoners
and facilities and were limited in their tour of the facilities
mostly by security regulations. Conversations with numerous
prisoners and staff were impromptu. The prison system appears to
have made marked progress overall, at least at the Korca and Burrel
prisons, and Director Dibra seems dedicated and knowledgeable. Most
of the inmates appeared to know him, and the atmosphere at the two
facilities was calm, without palpable tension and major discontent.
13. (SBU) The Korca prison has been built to EU standards and
perhaps is the model for future facilities. Post believes Albania
has made a substantial and long-term commitment to incorporating EU
standards in both the quality of its detention facilities, and in
its treatment of prisoners. Burrel prison, considered the worst in
the country, is outdated and will close in the coming years.
Funding is a major factor in improving prison conditions and
building new facilities, but with the GOA's other pressing problems,
it is difficult to see how funding for prisons will take priority.
Despite the challenges, significant improvements to the prison
systems are continuing to be made.