Drug dealers released after serving a fraction of their jail terms, while drugs are easily available behind bars

Drugs are indisputably today’s main social problem, with thousands of young people ending up as addicts and the State powerless to provide any effective solution. At the same time, drug trafficking continues even inside prisons and may be tolerated, or even encouraged, by prison wardens, as was recently revealed by a study by Grigoris Peponis, public prosecutor of Piraeus’s Court of First Instance. Even more striking is the fact that drug dealers who have been sentenced to long terms of 20 years are released under obscure circumstances, after having served only a couple of years. Over 580 people convicted of the possession, purchase, cultivation and/or sale of drugs – most of them dealers – have been released on parole or have had their sentences suspended. In some cases, however, there is a scandalous discrepancy between the original sentence – even those meted out by courts of first instance – and the one actually served. In Korydallos, four prisoners who had been sentenced to 21, 14 and 12 years were released on parole after having served just one and two-and-a-half years. In Patras, a drug dealer’s 15-year sentence was altered to one year and six months while another’s 13-year sentence was slashed to one year and seven months. Also in Patras, a third dealer’s 10-year sentence was reduced to just one year and seven months. Similar occurrences took place at Thessaloniki Prison: An individual sentenced to 15 years was released after serving almost three years overall, while somebody else’s six-year prison sentence lasted just 15 days. At Alikarnassos Prison, a person sentenced to 15 years for cultivating cannabis only served six months, and in Komotini an 11-year sentence was reduced to just three months when the person in question received conditional release. The evidence on which the releases were based were not available, yet the significant difference between the original sentences and the ones actually served raises important questions about a situation in which a drug dealer remains in prison for only a year or even a few months. The reasons for the release should be made public to avoid assumptions that the law has not been implemented or that court rulings have been annulled. Spyros Athanassopoulos, head of Korydallos Prison, who was contacted for information, did not provide any. Yet Nikos Koulouris, a prison criminologist, supplied all the legal framework based on the penal code for conditional release and release on parole, though he was not aware of the specific circumstances surrounding the aforementioned cases. According to Koulouris, provisions related to drug offenses have become stricter and call for longer terms of imprisonment. For a conditional release, the individual must have served at least three-fifths of the original sentence, which in practice means that he must have remained in prison for one-third of the time stated in the sentence. For offenses which occurred after September 12, 2001, four-fifths of the sentence must be served. Therefore, if someone has received a 21-year sentence, that person must remain in prison at least seven years, and in the case of a life sentence, a prisoner cannot be released before actually serving 16 years. A sentence is usually suspended when the case is pending at an appeals court and on condition that the individual in question is not likely to commit more offenses or to leave the country. The court must also state that it would be in fact harmful for the individual to remain in prison pending the appeal. The five-member appeals court is usually very cautious in issuing release rulings, mostly because of the likelihood of further offenses being committed or of the offender fleeing the country. Judiciary sources say it is very difficult for criminals deemed dangerous by the courts to meet these conditions, and that even complete compliance with prison rules or providing information about drug trafficking within the prison cannot guarantee their release. The number of prisoners in Greece has risen steadily over the past four years and four in 10 prisoners are being held on drug-related offenses. Among the 8,342 inmates in Greece’s 28 prisons, 4,699 are being held for penal code violations and 3,379 for the use, cultivation, trafficking or sale of narcotic substances. Of the latter, 1,569 – that is roughly half – are foreign nationals. According to the University Research Institute of Mental Health, the percentage of those imprisoned for drug-related offenses in the overall prison population is high. Most of them can be found in Greece’s three largest prisons, namely at Korydallos, Larissa and Patras. The number of prisoners convicted of drug trafficking who have been released, as well as the amount of time they spent in prison compared to their original sentence, was one of the issues recently raised in Parliament by Miltiadis Evert after the recent drug-related deaths at Korydallos Prison. There are many ways to gain access to narcotic substances while in prison. The 2002 annual report on drug issues in EU countries states that contacts with the outside world offer the opportunity to bring drugs in illegally: during visiting hours (with drugs hidden in visitors’ clothes, about their person or concealed in food packages), during transfer to the courtroom for the trial, after a period of leave or through postal parcels. Drugs can also be concealed in balls thrown over the prison walls while, quite frequently, drug rackets and prison staff abet drug trafficking.