Ethnic rifts pin Bosnia’s sick convicts in jail

By Daria Sito-Sucic

ZENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Daniel Marinic, a convicted murderer, is a victim of Bosnia’s ethnic rivalries: he must remain in a prison unit for convicts with psychiatric disorders even though his imprisonment is against the law.

Convicted in 1999 of killing his parents, the prisoner in his 30s is one of two dozen patients still in Zenica jail’s psychiatric unit in contravention of a new criminal code that requires him to be treated in a specialized medical institution.

They spend time crammed in dark, damp rooms on the second floor of a 19th-century building, cut off from the world by thick iron bars. In two rooms, 10 plain iron beds on bare concrete floors are covered with blankets reminiscent of the kind Bosnia received as humanitarian aid during the 1992-95 war.

“It’s better now,” said Marinic, standing in a tiny corridor crammed with prisoners excited by the arrival of visitors. “It was really bad when there were 30 of us in the room.” Until a few years ago, there were 70 patients in the unit.

Marinic seems calm enough, but doctors have advised against his release, saying he could be dangerous for other patients if put in a civilian hospital.

“They should not be in the prison but in a hospital, but we have no other place for them,” said Zenica prison warden Nihad Spahic. “We aim to get rid of such patients eventually.”

The reason the prisoners are stuck here is that Bosnia’s two post-war autonomous regions — the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic — have for two years failed to agree on building an institution for them.

Both are coping with a lack of facilities — a consequence of the disintegration of Bosnia’s once-unified prison system.

The 122-year-old prison complex in the central town of Zenica is the largest in Bosnia and the sole high-security facility in the Muslim-Croat federation.

Bosnia was ordered in 2006 by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights to build a state medical facility to accommodate convicts with psychiatric disorders.

The central cabinet had agreed with the Swiss government to use a 2.8 million Swiss franc ($2.42 million) donation to build an extra wing on a psychiatric hospital in eastern Bosnia.

But bickering between the regions over its ownership and use has delayed the process. The central government has a 2008 budget of $887 million, and each region has its own budget.

“Unless there is an agreement between the regions, it’s difficult to move things out of the dead end,” said Justice Ministry spokeswoman Marina Bakic.

COMPENSATION

Half of the 70 patients originally kept in Zenica have been released, because they are not deemed dangerous and their families have vouched for them and their care. But Marinic has been in prison illegally since the new criminal code came into effect in 2003.  Continued…

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