Rights activists, opposition politicians criticize conditions of Turkish juvenile detention centers

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Conditions in Turkey’s juvenile detention centers are dismal and rife with ill-treatment, violence and torture, according to human rights activists and opposition politicians who spoke to the Evrensel daily.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights activist, said they observed minors were made to stay in cold cells during the winter and that they were anxious and afraid but did not have the means to talk about their problems or even file complaints if they were mistreated.

He added that most minors did not have parents or came from broken homes so they could not even confide in their families about their troubles in detention. According to the Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (CTE) there were 1,170 minors between the ages 12 and 18 in detention as of January 5, 2021. A total of 426 of these minors have been convicted.

In some cases, if there is not adequate space in juvenile detention centers, minors are sent to adult prison facilities.

Cansu Şekerci from the Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CISST) said it had become increasingly difficult to obtain data about conditions in these centers. “We cannot even access information on the number of minors in juvenile detention centers,” she said. “Monitoring reports are often not published, so the only references we have are the notes that were taken by parliament’s Human Rights Committee.”

Şekerci said they had received countless letters from families and lawyers detailing the ill-treatment, violence or torture minors experienced in the centers. She said many letters did not even reach them because they were filtered by a “letter committee” in the prison administration.

The COVID-19 pandemic problems exacerbated these problems as prison administrations arbitrarily stopped inmates’ mail and packages from entering penal facilities. “Detention centers stopped families from visiting their children, citing the pandemic, and also halted visits from monitoring groups,” said Şekerci.

According to data obtained by Onursal Adigüzel from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), a total of 13 children died between 2013 and 2017 in detention centers. At least six of these deaths were a result of suicide.

“Our investigations have shown that imprisoned minors have a greater tendency to harm themselves,” said Şekerci.

There have been cases of suspicious deaths in juvenile detention centers. Onur Önal was beaten to death by other inmates in 2015 in İstanbul’s Maltepe juvenile detention center.

Recently, 17-year-old Kadir Aktar allegedly committed suicide in the same center. Aktar’s family was told he hanged himself, but they claim the circumstances surrounding his death were suspicious and have requested an investigation.

His father said Aktar was not suicidal and appeared normal the day before.

Şekerci said that juvenile detention centers were not the answer to combat underage criminal activity. “These centers violate the rights of minors, and we need to find an alternative to imprisoning them,” she said. “A child should be able to spend time with their family. Restricting them in such a way is not beneficial for them or for society.

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