Liepaja lands Latvia’s first new jail project

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The Cabinet of Ministers in its final session Monday approved the Justice Ministry’s plan to build the state’s first post-Soviet prison complex in Latvia’s western port city of Liepaja by 2018.

Speaking to Latvian Radio program Pecpusdiena, outgoing Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins said that the new state-of-the-art facility would be designed with the help of Estonian Justice ministry experts, who have already supervised the realization of two modern prison facilities at home.  

“There are various criteria that needed to be taken into account,” said the minister. “Accessibility, proximity to the court, prisoner escorts, personnel issues. All of these aspects were under consideration. Our Estonian colleagues’ contributions are greatly appreciated after several years of cooperation.”

The total territory of the prison will encompass 40,000 square meters divided into several wards to keep various categories of prisoners from crossing paths unnecessarily, said Correctional Facility Supervisory board chair Ilona Spure. She pointed out that the prison plans to house 1200 inmates of all categories, except for women and minors. Prisoners suffering from mental illnesses will live in specially supervised cells for their condition.

“As you go along the facility there’s a big, long building that will house a manufacturing center for the gainful employment of inmates serving their sentences. We will create an infrastructure for merchants to bid to put out their workshops and employ the inmates,” she said.

The prison will be designed for traffic between the wards to take place through underground tunnels so that the risk is reduced of breakouts and other unauthorized breaches of security that could happen across outside fences.  

This is the first new penitentiary to be built since Latvia regained its independence, and thus the first that will adhere to modern-day requirements for correctional facilities. The Liepaja City Council has designated a 30.5-hectare plot of land for the Justice Ministry project on the outskirts of town, much to the relief of downtown residents, who have tolerated the existing aging facility in the heart of the city for decades now.

Liepaja mayor Uldis Sesks called the promised new jobs from the jail project the “main benefit” to the city, which has recently also hoped to recover jobs soon from the rescue of its landmark metalworking plant Liepajas metalurgs (LM).

The prison is scheduled for putting into service in 2018 and is estimated to cost about €78m to complete.

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