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Communication of the journalist with a prisoner

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If a journalist wants to communicate with a prisoner, this will take place on the same bases as in case of prisoners’ relatives. This means that a journalist has the right to be in correspondence with a prisoner, a prisoner has the right to call a journalist from the prison pay telephone (also at the expense of call recipient) at the prescribed times, and, if requested by a prisoner, they can also meet in the framework of a short-term visit.

The prison or the Ministry of Justice does not mediate the prisoners’ contacts with journalists.  Also excluded is the search of prisoners, who correspond to the journalist’s desired parameters or who agree to an interview, and forwarding their names to journalists. Prisoners cannot be photographed or filmed.

Section 23 of the Imprisonment Act formulates very precisely the objective of prisoners' contact with outside world: to facilitate the prisoners' contacts with their families, relatives and other close persons in order to prevent the breaking of the prisoners' social links.

Nevertheless, unlike other countries, exceptions have been made for journalists in Estonia: in the interests of a state governed by the rule of law, visiting a prisoner and communication with a journalist is still allowed in Estonia – both for the control of legality and the correction of mistakes in the administration of justice.

But why has yet another additional exception not been made with regard to TV cameras? Some prisoners are ready to use media appearances as a possibility to threaten or insult victims or witnesses, to advocate criminal lifestyles or invade the sense of justice of the public. Conspicuous media appearances are often perceived as social recognition, wherefore the media appearances of prisoners easily hurt the feelings of crime victims and their relatives and the sense of justice of the public.

European Court of Human Rights has also found that restrictions on a prisoner’s right to communicate with the media are justified. A prisoner can present his/her opinions to the media in writing or through an advocate.

Correspondence and telephone calls

Incoming letter

A private message, post card or photograph that is only meant for the addressee, which weighs up to 250 grams and is forwarded by post, is deemed to be an incoming letter in the prison. Five stamps and five envelopes can be sent by letter.

Correspondence and telephone calls

A prisoner has a right to have correspondence and use a telephone (exc. mobile phone). Correspondence and use of telephone takes place according to the procedure provided for in the internal rules of the prisoner and at the prisoner’s own expense. The director of the prison may limit this right if this endangers the security, violates the internal rules of the prison or damages the objectives of executing the imprisonment.

Surveillance of correspondence and telephone calls

  • A prison officer shall open letters sent to or by a prisoner in the presence of the prisoner (except letters addressed to certain agencies), and shall confiscate the items that are prohibited in prison.
  • The contents of correspondence and messages forwarded by telephone may be examined only with the permission of a court and on the bases and pursuant to the procedure provided for in the Surveillance Act.
  • The prison shall control to whom the prisoner calls or writes. The prison has the right to register the name of a person or institution approached by the prisoner by means of a telephone call or a letter, the time and duration of call, and the address of the letter and the time it was sent.
  • The director of the prison has the right to refuse to forward a letter if:
    1) the forwarding of the letter endangers the objectives of application of imprisonment or the security or violates the internal rules of the prison;
    2) the forwarding of the letter may result in a criminal offence;
    3) the forwarding of the letter endangers the objectives of imposition of imprisonment of another prisoner;
    4) the letter is enciphered or illegible.

Short-term visit

The prisoner shall be permitted to receive at least one supervised visit per month from their family members and other persons with regard to whose reputation the prison administration has no doubts.

Visitation shall be conducted on the basis of a written application by the prisoner or the visitor and with the permission of the director of the prison or a person authorized by the director.

A schedule of visits shall be prepared on the basis of applications received and the applicants shall be notified of their times of visit. The visit shall be entered in the schedule also then when the application has been submitted by telephone.

 An application for a visit shall set out:
1) the given name and surname of the applicant;
2) the given name and surname of the person requested to be visited;
3) if the visitor is accompanied by a child, a corresponding notation
4) the requested time of the visit;
5) the signature of the applicant, and the date.

In addition, a visitor shall indicate the following data:
1) his or her date and place of birth and personal identification code;
2) address;
3) the number and date of issue his or her identity document;
4) his or her relationship with the detained person (family member, friend, acquaintance, cohabitee, etc.).

The issue of a permit may be refused if the prisoner has had one visit during the same month, or there is no vacancy in the visiting room at the requested time, or the director of the prison or a person authorized by the director has doubts with regard to the visitor’s reputation. The prisoner and the visitor shall be notified of the refusal within five working days after submission of the application.