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Protection of Persons Restricted in their Freedom

Planning and Course of Visits

The Defender approves a plan to what type (types) of a facility he will perform systematic visits within a certain period. The plan is compiled and specific facilities selected based on, for example, earlier practice of the Defender, information acquired from the public or persons placed in facilities, or on the basis of the outcome of activities of other control mechanisms. If a selected type of a facility so allows, when selecting specific facilities, the Defender also takes into account various promoters, the location of facilities (across the whole territory of the CR), different sizes of facilities and so on so that the findings give the most comprehensive picture possible about the situation in the given type of a facility.

The plan is usually prepared for a year; however, other facilities whose visitation is justified by a contemporary significant event are added to the plan on an ad hoc basis. Significant events include, for example, legislative changes or information constituting a justified suspicion that ill-treatment may be taking place in the given facility.  

Procedurally, a systematic visit may be divided in three phases: preparation of the visit, execution of the visit and the processing of acquired information resulting in the issuance of a report on the visit to the facility. 

Preparation 

During the preparation of a visit, information about the given type of a facility is gathered, with respect to legislation, be it national or international, including non-binding recommendations, declarations, non-legal standards, judicial decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, or internal rules issued by the relevant department. After the acquired information has been processed, the methodology of the visit itself is prepared. The methodology is divided up into basic areas and goals that the visit should cover (e.g. free movement, dignity, privacy, autonomy of will, health care, cultural and social needs, right to make a complaint etc.). A set of questions is drawn up in respect of each area, to be put to the staff of the facility and to the persons confined in the facility. 

Visits are performed unannounced, and if the head of a facility is not present, he or she is notified of the start of the visit by phone. If a visit is being made to a facility which has not come into contact with the Defender yet, it has proven effective to notify the facility of the unannounced visit by presenting a personal letter of the Defender at the beginning of the visit. In a letter to the director or the head of a facility, the Defender explains what his task is, how the visit will proceed, what its outcome will be etc.

Course of visits

The course of a visit depends on the size and the division of a facility. Visits last between one and three days and involve three to five employees of the Office, and sometimes the Defender himself. Visits to, for example, police cells take place also early in the morning or late at night. Experts in the given areas (e.g. a doctor, a nurse, a special pedagogue, an inspector of the quality of social services and so no) are invited to participate on an ad hoc basis. During a visit, the employees of the Office have the right to enter all areas, the right to speak with anyone privately, the right to examine all files (including medical files, on the basis of the provision of Sec 67b (10) (n) of Act No. 20/1966 Coll., on Care of People’s Health) and make extracts and copies.

After arriving at a facility, a quick initial interview with the head of a facility takes place. Following that, employees of the Office conduct a survey of the facility and take photographs as soon as possible. During the survey, informal contact with confined persons is established depending on circumstances. During the visit, attention is paid to how well the facility is equipped, to the degree of privacy afforded to persons (privacy related to accommodation in rooms as well as privacy during performance of personal hygiene and other needs), whether the facility is fitted with certain specific structural elements (such as metal bars) or audiovisual equipment, whether there are any visible elements that could potentially limit the personal freedom of confined persons (such as round door knobs, disabled access on the premises in the case of persons with disability), the level of hygiene and so on. Additionally, it is also important to observe what condition the confined persons are in and what activities are being performed by the staff. 

Further, the visit involves examining files (personal files of clients, social files, medical records, entries recorded by staff in shift reports, the internal rules and rules governing stays, etc.) and interviewing facility staff who participate in the running of the specific facility (the management, members of the Prison Service, social workers, doctors and other medical personnel, direct care workers, chaplains etc.). Interviews are conducted with persons limited in their freedom (prisoners, clients in social services, patients etc.), on the basis of selection by employees of the Office. The original method of drawing lots was soon abandoned in favour of selection according to certain critical moments, which can be evaluated on the basis of observance, previous examination of files or informal claims. This process ensures that interviews are conducted with all groups of confined persons in order to be able to respond flexibly even to an informal internal structure. It has been also proven effective to verify facts learnt during the examination of files by means of a few interviews to acquire facts that are supported by multiple sources. If circumstances so allow (health condition of persons), interviews take place without the presence of other persons.

Before the visit is completed, preliminary findings of employees of the Office are discussed in some cases with the head of the facility and information acquired during the visit is specified with an aim to reproach the facility for possible maladministration which is so serious that it must be addressed before the Defender’s report is delivered.  

 

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