Greece must urgently reform its prison system and end police violence, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee said in its report compiled after a visit to prisons in the country in 2019.
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) recommends that the Greek authorities remedy structural problems that have led to enduring ill-treatment of detainees, prison overcrowding and staff shortages, among other issues.
The report, published on Thursday together with a response from the Greek authorities, acknowledges some positive measures since the last CPT visit in 2015.
For example, the delegation observed more relaxed and informal exchanges between prisoners and their families and children at Korydallos Men’s Prison. “But too many fundamental problems persist,” the report warns.
Examining the situation of persons detained by the Hellenic Police, the report concludes that police ill treatment remains a “frequent practice throughout Greece.” Moreover, the current system of investigations into allegations of ill treatment “is ineffective.”
The CPT called on the Greek authorities to ensure that all police officers in the country understand clearly that any form of ill treatment of detained persons constitutes a criminal offence and will be prosecuted accordingly.
As regards prisons, far too many prisoners continue to be held in conditions that “represent an affront to their human dignity,” CPT said.
It specifically mentioned Korydallos Men’s Prison and Thessaloniki Prison, calling for urgent steps to reduce overcrowding at both facilities, which are currently operating at over 140 percent of their official capacity.
“Conditions in certain sections at Korydallos Men’s Prison and in the unsupervised disciplinary unit at Nigrita Prison were so bad that they can easily be considered to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment,” according to the CPT.
The report also documents that prisoners, not staff, control the prison wings and that there were increasingly high levels of inter-prisoner violence and intimidation in the prisons visited.
At Korydallos Men’s Prison, a “sense of lawlessness” was pervasive: The four large wings, each holding between 230 and 431 prisoners, were often staffed by a single prison officer, who clearly was not in a position to exert any authority or control.
The report further raises concern over “widespread deficiencies regarding health care services” in prisons.
The CPT is highly critical of the poor care provided to patients in the Korydallos Prison Health Centre and recommends that “urgent steps” be taken to significantly increase the number of qualified health care personnel, to reduce the occupancy levels and to repair the toilet and washing facilities.
Responding to the report, Greek Police (ELAS) said that any reports of ill treatment by policemen are investigated and argued that the complaints included in the CPT report “were not confirmed,” due to “insufficient evidence on the place, time and any persons possibly involved.”
On her side, Sofia Nikolaou, General Secretary of Counter-Crime Policy, admitted that certain sections in Korydallos Prison “do show problems due to their age,” however the maintenance teams of the detention facility carry out the necessary maintenance work within their capacity.
Concerning the prison’s health centre, she said the administration has held meetings with the 2nd Health Region, which is part of the Ministry of Health which is responsible for the operation of the centre and requested an upgrade of the infrastructure.
However, repairs are expected to be limited, as Korydallos Prison is in the process of being transferred to a new location, she added.