A coordinated approach to tackling the drug situation in Kyrgyz prisons

With a total of 3 kilograms and 254 grams, drug seizures in prisons formed only a fraction of the total amount of illicit drugs intercepted in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2012. Likewise, the number of drug related crimes detected in prisons, 38 in total, stood at 2% of the overall figure.

Notably, registered drug related crimes inside the prison walls are increasing, as the tally stood at 12 in 2010 and 26 in 2011 respectively. While comparatively low on a nationwide scale, the presence of illicit drugs within the prison perimeter is substantial, given that on a population of over 5 million, these drugs cater to a micro-level market of around 10,000 offenders locked up in the country's 33 prisons.

Drug abuse increases vulnerability to infectious and diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, among the prison population. While infection rates are generally decreasing, in 2012 130 new cases of tuberculosis and 123 new cases of HIV infection were registered within the prison system. This comes at a cost to public health, as released offenders often struggle to access social support services, including healthcare, and many tuberculosis patients do not continue treatment following their release from prison, thus increasing the risk of infectious diseases spreading among the general population.

The figures also show that organised crime groups continue to yield significant power in Kyrgyzstan's prisons. In a context of ongoing socioeconomic hardship in the aftermath of the political upheaval, violent demonstrations and ethnic strife in 2010, understaffed and ill-managed prisons provide a fertile breeding ground for these groups, which use prisoners both as recruits for criminal activity and customers for illicit drugs. Beyond the adverse impact of these practices on the security situation inside prisons, the capacity of organised criminal groups to stage massive prisoner riots, most recently in 2011 and early 2012,  and mobilise supporters also poses a potential threat to political stability and public order in the country.

In order to develop a coordinated approach to tackling the drug situation in Kyrgyzstan's prisons, the State Service on the Execution of Punishments (SSEP, Prison Service) and the State Service on Drug Control (SSDC) have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The preparation of this MOU was facilitated by UNODC with seed funding provided by the Government of the United States of America within the framework of the European Union/UNODC project 'Support to Prison Reform in the Kyrgyz Republic'.

Mr. Zarylbek Rysaliev, Chairperson of the State Service on the Execution of Punishments under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic: "The Memorandum of Understanding is a basis for further improvement of interagency cooperation to combat illicit drug trafficking, psychotropic substances and precursors control in the penitentiary system".

The MOU foresees joint research, analysis and exchange of information on illicit drug trafficking, joint seminars and other training activities to strengthen staff skills in relation to the fight against illicit drug trafficking, intelligence sharing, and joint measures to prevent drug abuse and cooperation on drugs detection, including use of modern technical equipment.

A working group made up of experts from both agencies has been established to coordinate the implementation of the MOU. Within the framework of the consultations facilitated by UNODC, an agreement was reached on the provision of direct technical assistance by the SSDC to the SSEP. As a result, the SSDC has recently provided the SSEP with 5 computers, 2 color printers, 1 video camera, 1 photo camera and 2 forensic examination kits, which will increase the SSEP's capacity to engage in criminal intelligence gathering work.

In March 2013, the SSEP and SSDC approved a joint staff training plan with a schedule for the organisation of at least 7 training courses for a total of 150 prison and drug control staff. On 28 and 29 March 2013, the two first training sessions were held for prison staff on controlled drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors. 20 prison officers with responsibility for intelligence gathering and 20 officers with responsibility for maintaining order in prisons were trained at the SSEP Training Centre by experts from the SSDC.

These joint activities are scheduled to continue in the months to come. A visit of drug control staff to a prison in Bishkek is foreseen for a practical session on drug substituion treatment. Training work will be further facilitated by the development of new training modules, for example on managing prison security and intelligence gathering. The use of the computer-based training class, established at the SSDC within the framework of the UNODC project "Strengthening the State Service on Drug Control of the Kyrgyz Republic", is also foreseen for joint capacity development.

Mr. Alimbay Sultanov, Chairperson of the State Service on Drug Control under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic: "Within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding, the State Drug Control Service will organize activities aimed at strengthening the professional capacity of prison staff".