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Experts condemn prison conditions

A Champ-Dollon cell which an inmate set on fire last year Keystone/Police Genève

A commission has criticised conditions inside Switzerland's most overcrowded jail, Geneva's Champ-Dollon, presenting a long-list of issues requiring resolution.

This content was published on April 19, 2007 - 09:12

On Wednesday, the group of experts said police used excessive force, adding that the facilities were insufficient and the length of investigative custody too long.

The report was commissioned by Geneva's cantonal parliament following a mutiny at the prison nearly one year ago.

In a confidential survey, 38 per cent of the 125 inmates questioned complained that the police used excessive force during their arrest and interrogation. Doctors confirmed injuries in 14 cases.

An under-aged youth accused police of holding his head several times under water. Three others said the officers took money from them or stole their mobile phones.

The experts, including medical doctors, also said the prison was ill conceived.

According to a report by the Swiss justice ministry last year, most Swiss prisons are filled to capacity. Champ-Dollon is the worst case.

Built to hold 270 prisoners, the Geneva facility today averages nearly twice as many. And at one point last October, more than 500 inmates were crowded into its cells.

However, the report said enlarging the facility would not solve all of the problems since the 60 per cent of the people held there were in investigative custody and the length of their captivity was too long.

A single judge is responsible for all of the new cases, the experts said, adding that the eight-day period under which a possible extension of custody must be decided is not respected.

Behind closed doors

They also said that decisions to extend the length of any inmates stay were taken behind closed doors, often without granting the accused a hearing.

The experts demanded that such hearings be made public, and said those detained should have the right to a lawyer or doctor immediately after their detention.

Two hundred of the prisoners at Champ-Dollon threatened to go on hunger strike a year ago over alleged police brutality and slow justice.

Human rights campaigners, who have visited inmates at the prison, describe the situation as "potentially explosive".

The Swiss Human Rights League (SHRL) said in one instance a suspect spent up to eight months in investigative custody only to receive a two-month sentence when the case finally came to trial.

On Monday, the SHRL issued its latest report, once again condemning the situation at the prison.

It said many of the inmates must spend 23 out of 24 hours in their cells since there are not enough work opportunities to go around.

The authorities in Geneva have not yet responded to the allegations.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

As of last September, there were:
- 5,888 people in custody in Switzerland.
- Of this number, 1,808 were in investigative custody.
- Foreigners accounted for 69% of the total.
- Women made up 5.7%.
- 80% of those in investigative custody were foreigners.

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