Joint UK/Portuguese project strengthens Turkish prison service reform

On 30 April, Ambassador David Reddaway launched an EU-funded project worth almost 5 million euros which will enable the Turkish prison service to benefit from British and Portuguese expertise.

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Improvement of enforcement services in prisons

‘Minister, Ambassadors, our host Mr Yıldırım, General Manager for Prisons and Detention Houses and Project Leader, distinguished guests. It is a great honour for me to speak here on behalf of the United Kingdom at this important event. The UK is very pleased to be working with you, and with our partner and historical ally, Portugal, on this EU Twinning prison services reform project.

I am also particularly pleased on personal terms as my sister works in prisons developing literacy amongst prisoners. We spent a long time talking about this together last week whilst attending the Gallipoli campaign celebrations.

I am sorry that our Minister, Mr Jeremy Wright MP, could not be with us today as he had hoped. He has had to stay in the UK because of Parliamentary business. He has asked me to say how disappointed he is not to be here, and to send you his good wishes. He hopes to reschedule his visit to Turkey to develop our dialogue in the areas for which he has ministerial responsibility. Minister, we are absolutely delighted that you have chosen the United Kingdom and Portugal to undertake work on this project in partnership with you. Thank you very much.

Both the UK and Portugal have always been strong advocates of Turkey’s EU membership, which we believe would be good for Turkey and good for the EU. The British Deputy Prime Minister said, when he was in Turkey last year, that Turkey’s membership of the EU is a ‘strategic necessity’. We welcome recent steps to re-energise the accession process and to resume progress towards membership.

Twinning is an important part of that process, and an area in which we can demonstrate our commitment and support. This is the UK’s 19th successful Twinning bid in Turkey. We have other bids in the pipeline which we also hope will be successful.

And this is the third project that the UK Ministry of Justice has delivered in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Justice. It is also the largest EU Twinning project that we have managed to date here.

This project is therefore very important not only in further strengthening our excellent bilateral relationship, but also in the continued progress of penal reform and the national programme for the Adoption of the Acquis for Turkey’s accession to the EU. It will support the Turkish “action plan for the Judicial Reform Strategy”, continuing the efforts to bring Turkish prisons fully into line with international standards.

I believe that working together with you and our Portuguese partners we can make this project a real success. The UK and Portugal bring to the table our complementary strengths in prison human resources systems, innovative staff training and organisational development; our experience of working with large populations of vulnerable prisoners, including foreign and older prisoners; and our experience of using specialist facilities.

We also have access to many experts from other EU Member States to provide Turkey with a range of options to consider in redesigning and developing your human resources and training systems.

In terms of similarities between Turkey and the United Kingdom, we are both large countries with long histories and with justice systems that have been in a continuing process of evolution. That evolution won’t stop.

In the UK, for example, we are currently reviewing the work we do with offenders in prison to try to reduce the unacceptably high levels of re-offending. While in Turkey, we see justice reform as linked both to EU accession and to your own domestic priorities – for example to enhance the rehabilitative work that you do with prisoners for different background, as Mr Yıldırım described.

When I worked for a British Minister in the mid 1980s, I remember a Turkish Minster coming to call on her in London. The British Minister expressed concern about prison conditions in Turkey – as we did then with every visiting Turkish Minister. The Turkish Minister replied that we should keep in mind that the conditions in many Turkish hotels compared unfavourably with those in some Western European prisons.

What a change in Turkey we have seen since then. You have certainly improved your hotels which I have the pleasure of staying in. You have taken forward comprehensive legislative and administrative measures against torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.

You have brought improvements to prison conditions and infrastructure which have involved the closing of a number of small older prisons and the construction of new technically advanced prisons.

You have made significant improvements in the training system, investing considerable amounts of resources in training on human rights and other areas needing attention as again we’ve heard from Mr Yıldırım.

Essential to these changes are the people working to deliver them. Strong and enlightened leadership, and prison staff working in line with European standards, are at the heart of an efficient and effective and humane Prison Service that can achieve the rehabilitation, treatment and successful reintegration of prisoners. We know that in Turkey you have the leadership, and the staff committed to producing a top quality service.

We also know from our own experience that making changes in working practices takes time, and a great deal of investment. I am very pleased that this project, in under two years, should provide you with the foundations to develop these crucially important working practices.

Minister, Ambassador and esteemed colleagues, may I conclude by thanking once again those who have decided to entrust this project to the UK and Portugal in partnership with Turkey. I also thank everyone who has worked to ensure the project’s contract and other arrangements are supported and effective, and who will be involved in taking it forward.

I wish you every success.’

British Ambassador to Turkey, David Reddaway

Published 30 April 2013