Only as restrictive as absolutely necessary
If there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a felony, the coercive measures court can order pre-trial detention. That way, prosecution authorities can prevent the suspect from fleeing, breaking the law again, talking to other involved parties or manipulating evidence. In order for that to work, the conditions in pre-trial detention need to be comparatively restrictive – despite the presumption of innocence.
In the last decades, there have not been any significant changes regarding remand, which is why Government Councillor Jacqueline Fehr launched several initial projects after taking office in 2015. Their aim is to protect the purpose of pre-trial detention while at the same time ensuring that the affected inmates are not subject to any unnecessary restrictions. The Office for the Execution of Penal Sentences and Justice has scrutinized the prison conditions, identified areas in which actions must be taken, and taken first steps to improve the situation of prisoners in remand.
«The conditions in pre-trial detention can not be changed overnight. We must take into consideration the conditions at the individual prisons and the specifications of our partners, e.g. the public prosecutor’s offices. But we are improving the situation step by step. The important thing is that we’re working toward a common goal.»Roland Zurkirchen, head of the Zurich remand centres
Four areas of activity
In a study titled «Optimierung der Untersuchungshaft im Kanton Zürich» («Optimizing pre-trial detention in the Canton of Zurich»), the Office for the Execution of Penal Sentences and Justice looked at four different aspects of detention conditions.
- Social connections
- Work, employment, and training
- Training and continuing education for the staff
- Detention period
The study shows that improvements are possible in these areas. Some of the recommendations have already been implemented.
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Whether and how improved prison conditions influence the prisoners in remand has yet to be examined in substantiated and methodically sound studies. A scientifically supervised model experiment in pre-trial prisons in the Cantons of Zurich and Berne is planned. The model experiment was approved by the Zurich government council on 8.12.2022.
First measures taken
The Office for the Execution of Penal Sentences and Justice has compiled international findings on prison conditions in a scientific paper. The Department of Justice and Home Affairs is already taking the insights into account.
For example, inmates at the Zurich pre-trial prisons can move around freely within their block for an average of seven hours a day. There’s access to education, work, and exercise. And, within the scope of available resources, support from social workers and other support staff was reinforced. Zurich’s pre-trial prisons now also offer more options regarding communication and social exchange. All these measures were put into practise to prevent and counteract the harmful side effects of pre-trial detention.
«Caring for prisoners in remand is often crisis intervention work. Pre-trial detention is necessary, but we must try to cushion negative side effects such as damage to the relationship with the family, losing a job, or social isolation as much as possible.»Government Councillor Jacqueline Fehr
Additionally, the Office for the Execution of Penal Sentences and Justice has opened a new ward at the Limmattal penitentiary specifically for inmates in acute psychological crises. The crisis intervention ward (KIA) has room for nine inmates.
Compared to normal remand, this ward has more care personnel (an equivalent of four full-time jobs for nursing staff and one full-time job for prison psychiatrists) as well as group activities, consultations, visits, and possibilities regarding work, education and free time.
By making psychiatric care and support available to prisoners in acute psychological crises, the Canton of Zurich has closed the gap in the previous range of care services for inmates in remand.