The prison that wouldn't open

The cornerstone for the future state penitentiary facility in BiH was laid in 2006 but the building, announced to be the “safest prison in the region”, is still not operational.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
The prison that wouldn't open - NewsMavens
A prison. Wikimedia commons

Why this story matters:

The completion of the first state-administered prison in the country has been announced by several governments and their officials in the past decade. However, after the cornerstone was laid in 2006, it took full eight years for the construction works to finally begin.

The facility came necessary years ago, because existing prisons, managed on local levels, have neither the capacity to accommodate all the convicts, nor do they meet EU standards.   

The plan to build a state prison facility was supported by multiple international institutions. The Development Bank of the Council of Europe loaned BiH 19 million euros, the EU donated over 9 million, the European Commission provided 1.7 million through programs of technical assistance while the governments of Sweden and USA also chipped in with 2 and 1,1 million respectively. On top of that, Bosnia and Herzegovina spent 6.5 million from its own resources.

In September 2017, the state Ministry of Justice, which will be in charge of managing the penitentiary, announced that the construction is finally finished, aside from a few administrative steps. The municipality where the prison is located, had to complete the procedure of technical acceptance and a managing director had to be appointed. The facility will start operating in October, the minister assured.

As it usually happens, the “few final steps” morphed into a labyrinth of bureaucratic procedures, laced with shady motives.

The state ministry filed a complaint against the municipality’s choice of contractor responsible for the technical acceptance. The municipality appealed their complaint, quoting the company's considerable experience in the field. Then the Ministry of Spatial Planning of Republika Srpska, where the municipality is located, accepted the appeal on the grounds that the state Ministry of Justice didn’t file a valid complaint. 

After that decision, the state ministry fell silent. So far, it has neither confirmed nor denied whether the administrative squabble will grow into a lawsuit, which is the only legal action available at this point.

This bureaucratic mess was accompanied by officials assuring the public that we are only a few steps from the official “launch” of the prison, supposedly built to meet the highest standards.

The prison was scheduled to open its doors in October. However, when asked about their financial projections for the facility, the Ministry of justice replied that, at this point, “there is no way of knowing” how much it will cost to get it up and running.

Judging by that response, it doesn’t seem like this institution is really planning to put the newly constructed building to use any time soon. Not even after millions in loans, donations and budget resources, let alone years of delay.

Details from the story:

  • The problem of overcrowded prisons in BiH was recognized years ago, both by domestic institutions and their foreign partners.
  • Several countries and international players stepped in to help build a state-run prison.
  • After a long delay, in September 2017, it seemed that the construction was finally over and the modern, high-security and high-standard prison will start operating soon.
  • Instead, a puzzling administrative battle ensued between a ministry and a municipality.
  • The state Ministry of Justice has repeatedly lauded the prison as one of its major projects, flaunting its future capacities. They claim that it will occupy an area of 24,000 square meters and accommodate 350 convicts. Each convict will have his own 12 square meter cell. A staff of 250 will be employed at the prison.
  • Despite these precise numbers, today the ministry claims that it can't even project the costs of operating the prison.
  • The state budget for 2018 should be drafted soon. Whether this facility will be in it remains uncertain.
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