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Czechoslovakia Penal System
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    According to federal law, "The purpose of imprisonment is to prevent the convicted person from engaging in continued criminal activity and to educate him systematically toward becoming a lawabiding citizen. The execution of imprisonment must not humiliate human dignity." The laws regulating the operation of prisons appear just and humane and take into account up-to-date theories of penology. Prison authorities are directed to treat prisoners with compassion and respect for human dignity; education and rehabilitation, rather than punishment, are stressed. Prisoners are required to work, but the law states that work hours will be comparable to those in outside society. Remuneration will be fair, and prisoners may build up savings while incarcerated. Cultural and educational projects are to be provided for nonwork hours, and prison libraries are to be well stocked. From first-hand accounts of released prisoners, however, it appears that the actuality of prison life fell far short of the norms directed by law.

    As of 1987, prison conditions in Czechoslovakia were poor, especially for political prisoners, who often were subjected to the "third category" of imprisonment, the so-called "harshest regime." Some former prisoners complained of beatings by authorities and confinement in substandard cells. Others told of beatings and ill-treatment by fellow prisoners that were ignored, or possibly encouraged, by guards. Complaints about food were widespread, and dietary deficiencies led to ailments that required medical attention after release. Medical care in prisons was said to be deficient, and family visits were sometimes curtailed or prohibited. These shortcomings were routinely reported during the 1970s and 1980s by Amnesty International, which concluded that prison conditions in Czechoslovakia fell below "internationally accepted standards."

    A January 1979 report in Vienna's Die Presse about prison conditions in Czechoslovakia referred to the "disastrous" conditions of that country's sixteen remand prisons, or those prisons used for pretrial detention. Cells were said to be tiny, facilities primitive, and medical care haphazard. Prisoners were charged a daily rate for their upkeep, which they were required to pay after release. Some prisoners reportedly owed as much as an average worker earned in five months. The more than twenty non-remand prisons were said to be in extremely poor condition, most having been built prior to World War II or even prior to World War I and never modernized. Discipline in the prisons was said to have become more severe after 1968. Punishments of prisoners included cutting the already small food ration or taking away the privilege of receiving a package once every three months. As had been reported frequently by released prisoners, political offenders were confined with common criminals, and the educational programs called for by law rarely existed in practice. Prisoners were allowed one library book and one newspaper per week. It was reported that, more often than not, the library book was a collection of speeches by some party functionary.

    Physical abuse of political prisoners by prison personnel was also not unknown. In 1987 Die Presse reported that one prisoner serving a one-year term for alleged "incitement to rebellion " was beaten so badly by the prison warden that he could neither stand nor walk without the help of police officers when making a court appearance; moreover, scars on his abdomen showed that prison officials and investigation officers had extinguished cigarettes on his body.

    Prisoners or former prisoners who complained publicly about mistreatment and poor prison conditions were severely punished. For reporting on harsh conditions at several prisons, Jiri Wolf was accused of "divulging state secrets" in December 1983 and given a six-year sentence at the harshest regime. In June 1984, Jiri Gruntorad received an additional fourteen-month sentence for complaining that he was beaten by a prison guard.

    Details on the total number of penal institutions (referred to as corrective educational facilities) were not routinely publicized. Well-known prisons are located at Prague-Pankrac, Bory-Plzen, and Litomerice in Bohemia; Mirov and Ostrava in Moravia, and Leopoldov in Slovakia. Facilities at Prague-Ruzyne and Brno-Bohunice served primarily as detention centers for people being held during pretrial investigation or those awaiting appeal hearings. The prison system, including the Corps of Corrective Education (prison guards), was administered by the governments of the Czech and Slovak socialist republics through their ministries of justice.

    Data as of August 1987

    NOTE: The information regarding Czechoslovakia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Czechoslovakia Penal System information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Czechoslovakia Penal System should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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