Community service for petty crimes

People convicted of petty crimes and even negligent homicide and who are sentenced to up to three years in prison will soon have the option of providing community service and staying at home, Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos said yesterday. This measure, which has existed for years in many other countries, was not used in Greece because there was no infrastructure for it, Petsalnikos told a news conference, presenting a range of reforms of the prison system. The Justice Ministry is hiring 60 social welfare inspectors to oversee the people who are expected to choose community service rather than pay a fine or go to prison, those who are on parole or those whose sentences have been suspended. Convicts who are eligible are those who have been sentenced to more than one month and less than three years and were given the option of paying off their sentence. The cost of avoiding prison currently comes to about 3,000 euros per year. About 3,500 people are convicted annually of crimes such as theft, violating narcotics laws, insulting behavior, traffic offenses and negligent homicide and sentenced to up to three years or given the option of a fine. There are now about 650 people in prison serving such sentences. They will be able to apply for community service when the presidential decree providing for this is passed. Courts will decide on the type of service provided and the hours of work which will equal a day of the prison term, Petsalnikos said. The convict will not be paid but will be able to go home after the day’s work. Thirty-four agencies (including 25 municipalities, the Red Cross, the General Secretariat for Youth and the National Welfare Organization) have announced they will be taking part in the program. Work will generally involve the cleaning of parks and ravines, guarding forests and working as crossing guards for children and the elderly. The new measure will apply across the country. In another measure, Petsalnikos said prisons would be provided with their first set of new rules in 70 years. Among these, mobile phones will be banned but the use of pay phones will still be allowed.