Convicted without guilt
Two special blocks, called Mothers’ Home, have been arranged for women with children aged up to three years. One is situated on the territory of Rusca Prison and the other in the Pruncul Prison Hospital. Mothers’ Home in Rusca Prison accommodates nine detainees with nine children, while that in Pruncul, nine mothers with 10 children. Both blocks have been built with the support of international organizations.
To get to Mothers’ Home in Pruncul, we submitted a request to the administration of the Penitentiary Department. Although we also wanted to visit Rusca, for some reason, we were refused.
Our trip to Mothers’ Home in Pruncul begins at the heavy gates of the main entrance to prison. After a rigorous control, lest we somehow bring prohibited items (even our attendant from the DPI was subject to control), we were led into the institution. We passed by Prison no. 9, which accommodates inmates convicted for serious crimes, then we went by the Prison Hospital, where convicts from all prisons of Moldova are brought for treatment, and finally, we reached the Mothers’ Home, a two-storied building with thick bars.
Next to the building, there is a small playground for children, surrounded by a three-meter-high wall with barbed wire on top. The wall borders the restricted area and a guard, armed with an automatic pistol, closely watches the children from the tower. Because of the high walls, the sun is a rare guest on the children’s playground.
At the entrance of Mothers’ Home, there is another guard who opens a massive gate with metal bars. The building's interior differs from that of an ordinary prison in Moldova. Double-glazed windows, cells with a separate bathroom unit and a kitchen. Only the thick bars and mold in the corners remind us that this is a prison.
The joy of childhood at the mercy of NGOs
The austere budget of the DPIs does not allow for a special menu for prisoners’ children. Therefore, a kitchen has been set up, where mothers prepare food for themselves and for their children. NGOs’ donations, such as toys and clothes, hygiene items and food, are like a real godsend for convicts with infants. Sometimes, NGOs take the children outside prison, organizing trips to the zoo or amusement parks. These rare days are the biggest holidays for the infants of Mothers’ Home.
Santa Claus regularly visits children in the prison. This year again, Santa was brought by an NGO, which provided gifts for imprisoned mothers and their children.
Convicts say that prison administration tries to be responsive to their requests and to provide all the necessary things, but the possibilities are limited. "Our children don’t have fruit every day," an imprisoned mother whispered to us.
Convicts, serving their sentences at the two prisons in Pruncul, care for the children in the Mothers’ Home. They regularly prepare packages with sweets and fruits of the goods sent to them by relatives.
Representatives of religious denominations also try to help these women. Maxim Melinti, prison chaplain, is the one who baptizes the detainee’s children, while representatives of NGOs often take the role of baptismal godparents, especially when the women going behind bars are abandoned by their families. "Everything is done in accordance with the procedure, confession, communion, baptism, or I talk to them. They need communication," Maxim Melinti said.
"I don’t know what to do when they’ll take my baby”
Mothers’ Home accommodates women who either had small children when sentenced, or gave birth being in detention. When the children turn three, they are taken away from mothers and placed in families or in orphanages, while mothers have to further serve their sentences.
Prison employees say that being away from home and families, imprisoned mothers become very attached to their babies, and when the time to separate comes, they experience profound dramas. Some of them even require medical help.
"I can’t imagine, I don’t know what to do when my child is taken away from me," this refrain is repeated by every mother, detained in the institution.
Dramas of the residents of Mothers’ Home seem to be carbon copies, although they have all been convicted of different crimes.
Victoria Pruteanu, mother of a little boy, is a Master of Law, and her former husband is a policeman. Another 9-year-old boy is waiting for her at home. The woman has been sentenced to 5 years and 6 months for extortion. She was found guilty of taking money and goods for settling the examinations issue at the driving school that she managed. She says she is not guilty. She claims someone was interested in her conviction and she would do everything possible to restore her good name.
Two other mothers, Lucia and Diana, have been sentenced to eight and six years in prison for trafficking in persons. Both plead not guilty and say they had been involved into the deal without realizing that they participated in trafficking schemes. "An acquaintance of mine asked me to invite a girl that I knew. I didn’t know what they were going to do. For this, I was sentenced to 6 years. Maybe I wouldn’t reach jail, but I had no money to pay bribes. And the state lawyer did not file the appeal on time," Diana says.
Svetlana is from a village in the North of the country. The woman is pregnant and has two more children at home, aged 2 and 3. She was convicted of domestic violence, having assaulted her husband. Her family cut any ties with her. She wants nothing more than to see her two children, but her ex-husband (meanwhile they divorced) does not allow children to be brought to jail.
In Mothers’ Home, we met Tatiana, a young pregnant woman from Balti. She was convicted of keeping drugs. Initially, she was fined 1,500 lei. However, she had no money to pay the fine on time and the court bailiffs demanded her arrest. Thus, the young woman must serve a sentence of six months in prison.
Mariana is from Nisporeni and is at Mothers’ Home with her twins. Two more children are waiting for her at home. Mariana was sentenced to 5 years for domestic violence. She stabbed her husband, who had abused her. During the trial, the spouses reconciled, and her husband asked the court to acquit her, as "things of this kind happens in one’s family." However, the court disregarded his request. Mariana’s husband is caring; he always comes to visit his wife and two children and can’t wait to see them home. Even the guards say about this case, "We don’t understand prosecutors and judges. They have nothing to do. She understood her mistake. Her husband wants her back. Why do they keep her in jail with two children?"
All the detainees with children had high hopes for the amnesty declared in connection with the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova. While more men convicted of pimping and drug trafficking escaped jail, the courts have not released any mother detained in Mothers’ Home. Sources within the DPI have told us that they submitted requests for the amnesty of 30 women, of which just two were released. "We challenged the decisions to the Court of Appeal and hope that the court will consider our requests," our source in the DPI told us.
Article 96 of the Penal Code provides for postponement of the penalty for convicted women that are pregnant and those with children up to the age of 8, except those sentenced to imprisonment for a term exceeding five years for serious, extremely serious and exceptionally serious crimes. However, this article is not always applied. Lawyers, most often provided by the state, spare their efforts in this regard, while prosecutors and judges, most often remain indifferent.
Dumitru Sliusarenco, lawyer of Promo-Lex Association says that judges are selective when it comes to the application of Article 96 of the Penal Code.
Dumitru Sliusarenco. Source: facebook.com
"Putting into practice of this article is rather controversial. The courts are not obliged to consider provisions for postponement of the penalty for women who have children up to the age of eight. Therefore, the application of this Article always depends on several factors, including the behavior of women, especially in the cases when they do not confess to the crime, or do not regret their deeds. Consequently, they do not benefit from the provisions of Article 96. Similarly, application of this provision depends on the court’s empathy and other circumstances. In some cases, the penalty established exceeds 5 years and these provisions cannot be applied for objective reasons, as the law does not allow it. In other cases, the courts choose to apply only the provisions of Article 79 on the establishment of a softer punishment and refuse to apply simultaneously those of Article 96 of the Penal Code. These circumstances lead to a situation when convicted women, who have young children in care, are either forced to be in detention with their children, or leave them in the care of others. From my own experience, I can say that in many of these cases, the sanction of detention is not relevant and it affects not only the mother and the child during detention, but can have a huge impact on family relations and children's future. There is a risk that these relations might deteriorate, or even disappear and endanger the future of the children," the defender says.
Maia Banarescu Source: facebook.com
Maia Banarescu, ombudsman for children's rights, claims it is a system problem and changes in legislation should be made, "I am for postponement of the penalty for all mothers with children. And the term of penalty postponement has to be increased, at least until these children reach the age of 10 to minimize the psychological impact on children after their separation from mothers".
Ludmila Popovici. Source: fileviatasicarti.wordpress.com
Natalia Cojocaru, prison psychologist, says that mothers in prison often end up in depression, which also affects their children. "Such situations are frequent among recently convicted mothers, or those who have to be separated from their children. We try to help them overcome these conditions, but it is very difficult," Cojocaru told us.
Not a happy-end story
The case of Victoria Pruteanu, a resident of Straseni with five minor children, who killed her violent husband to save her own life, raised the awareness of the entire domestic society and echoed abroad. Straseni District Court sentenced Victoria to 3 years and 8 months of imprisonment, putting handcuffs on her in the courtroom under the very eyes of her crying children.
The case mobilized the entire society, and a day later, following the intervention of the Minister of Justice, Vladimir Cebotari, Victoria was placed under house arrest. Chisinau Court of Appeal decided on 22 November on the postponement of the penalty of four years, until the youngest child of Victoria reaches the age of eight. The court of Appeal upheld the sentence passed by the Court of Straseni, condemning the woman to a prison term of 3 years and 8 months, of which she will serve 1 year and 8 months, as she has been under house arrest for 2 years.
Vadim Vieru, Victoria Pruteanu’s lawyer, challenged the decision of the Court of Appeal to a higher court and demanded acquittal of his client. "We still have to fight. However, what happened today is a small victory. It is for the first time when interlocutory judgments have been issued with respect to the behavior of public authorities in Victoria’s case and the prosecutor requested a minimum penalty, even if previously, a term of 12 years was requested. Our position remains the same, Victoria is not guilty and should be acquitted," the defender said.
Victoria Pruteanu’s case has proven us that legal provisions can work, but it required the entire society to lie heavy on the judiciary system and all the televisions to trumpet the story for the judges to apply a legal provision. As for the rest, there are so many outrageous cases, when judges remain cold and the law is applied selectively.