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What Are Romanian Prisons Like: The Harsh Reality of Romanian Prisons

Romania’s prison system has undergone significant changes and reforms since the fall of communism in 1989. However, issues such as overcrowding, poor living conditions, and lack of resources continue to plague many of the country’s detention facilities. This article will provide an overview of what life is currently like inside Romanian prisons.

A Brief History of the Romanian Prison System

During the communist era in Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule from 1965 to 1989, the prison system was notoriously inhumane. Political prisoners were subjected to torture, solitary confinement, malnutrition, and overcrowding. The secret police used imprisonment as a means of controlling dissent.

After the revolution, Romania began a process of prison reform and modernization with the goal of bringing conditions in line with human rights norms. New laws reduced certain sentences and provided alternatives to incarceration. The prison administration was moved from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice. Despite some progress, problems stemming from underfunding, corruption, and aging infrastructure continue to exist.

Prison Populations and Overcrowding

As of September 2022, Romania had just under 17,000 people incarcerated in its prison system. This gives Romania an incarceration rate of 136 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, which is below the European Union average.

However, many facilities deal with serious overcrowding due to insufficient capacity. For example, Rahova Prison in Bucharest was built for 1,150 inmates but regularly houses over 2,000. Overcrowding puts a strain on sanitation, food services, healthcare, and other essential functions in a prison environment.

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Physical Conditions and Facilities

  • Many prisons still in use were constructed over a century ago during the Victorian era and lack modern amenities.
  • Cells are often small, poorly ventilated, infested with insects, and lack temperature controls.
  • Up to 20 prisoners may share a cell only intended for 6-8 people.
  • Basic items like beds, blankets, and toiletries are frequently in short supply.
  • Hot water is limited. Some inmates report only having access to hot water one day per week.
  • Food is of low nutritional quality and quantity. Access to kitchen facilities is restricted.

Newer prisons and areas constructed after 2000 tend to have better conditions in terms of cleanliness, space, and facilities. However, maintenance and upkeep is still lacking overall due to low funding.

Healthcare and Mental Health Provisions

Access to medical care is very limited in Romanian prisons. Even basic medications for conditions like high blood pressure can be unavailable. There are widespread reports of untreated diseases and health emergencies being ignored.

For mental healthcare, most prisons have no psychologists or psychiatrists on staff. Solitary confinement exacerbates existing mental illnesses but support systems are absent. Suicide rates remain high due to poor mental health screening and follow-up.

Additionally, corruption leads to unequal treatment. Inmates must often pay bribes to access additional food, medicine, or transfers to facilities with better conditions.

Work and Rehabilitation Programs

Opportunities for work, education, and skills training are fairly scarce in Romanian prisons. Just 50% of inmates perform any prison labor such as cooking, laundry, or maintenance services. Prison workshops tend to use outdated equipment and techniques that provide little career development value.

Vocational programs are limited to trades like carpentry and auto repair. Formal education programs are rare, but some facilities offer classes to complete primary or secondary schooling. Recreational and rehabilitation activities are restricted due to overcrowding and lack of personnel.

The shortages of meaningful work and rehabilitative programming undermine efforts to successfully reintegrate prisoners into society after release.

Visitation Rules and Communication

Inmates are permitted visits from family and friends according to a schedule based on security level. Minimum security prisoners may qualify for open visits without physical barriers, but higher security levels require closed visits with barriers in place.

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The number of visits allowed ranges from 2 to 4 per month depending on the prison. Visits are restricted to 1-2 hours in most cases. Foreign prisoners face greater limitations on visits by family coming from abroad.

Communication by mail is monitored and limited. Access to telephones exists but is problematic due to cost and restricted availability. Overall, maintaining contact with the outside world is difficult for prisoners in Romania.

Corruption and Abuse

Illegal activities by prison authorities and staff remain an issue. In the past, guards inflicted punishments such as beatings or torture for rule violations. While reduced, corporal punishment still occurs in some facilities.

The trafficking of contraband items like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and mobile phones persists aided by corrupt staff and administrators. Inmates with money can often still buy favors, access, or transfers to better conditions. Manipulation and coercion by guards exists due to their unchecked authority.

Reform Efforts

The Romanian government has made attempts at reform over the past decades with mixed results. Construction of new prison facilities has aimed to ease overcrowding and replace crumbling old institutions. Other initiatives have focused on staff training on human rights and improving healthcare access.

However, increased funding and systemic reform is still needed to professionalize prison staff, add rehabilitation programs, install modern surveillance and controls, and update infrastructure. Ongoing issues like corruption and discrimination must also be directly confronted.

Romania will need sustained engagement from policymakers, watchdog groups, and the public to enact meaningful change that lives up to democratic values. But the progress made so far provides some hope for the future.


While Romania has come a long way from the inhumane communist-era prison system, ongoing problems with overcrowding, poor living conditions, lack of rehabilitative programs, and corruption continue to plague the country’s prisons today. However, increased media exposure and advocacy around these issues demonstrate that progress is possible. With sufficient political will and public support for reform, Romania’s prisons could live up to the standards expected of the modern EU state. Providing safe, humane, and rehabilitative corrections systems should be a priority on Romania’s path to a more just society.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Romanian Prisons

Are prisoners allowed any time outside their cells?

Prisoners are generally allowed 1-2 hours per day outside their cells in exercise yards or common rooms. Higher security inmates have more limited time outside cells. Overcrowding also reduces time for outdoor exercise.

What do prisoners do during the day?

Most prisoners spend their time confined in crowded cells with little to occupy their time. Some may have access to exercise, TV, board games, or reading materials. Opportunities for work, education, or skills training are limited to about half of the inmate population.

How does the food quality compare to regular Romanian cuisine?

Food quality is poor compared to traditional Romanian cuisine. Prison food lacks variety and nutritional content. Typical meals consist of porridge, potatoes, cabbage, and other cheap ingredients. Food preparation standards are low due to lack of kitchen facilities.

Are prisoners segregated by gender, age, or crime type?

Men and women are housed in separate facilities. Juveniles under 18 may be held in detention centers for youth rather than adult prisons. Beyond that, little segregation exists between convicts sentenced for different crimes or of different ages.

Can prisoners access medical treatment or drugs like methadone?

Access to healthcare is extremely limited. Even basic painkillers or treatments for chronic illnesses are scarce. Prison hospitals exist but have poor facilities, staffing, and medication availability. Drug substitution treatment like methadone is generally unavailable.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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