Relief for bursting jails

The government’s efforts to overhaul the penal system will provide some much-needed relief for the country’s overflowing prisons as the Justice Ministry puts into effect its plans to build six new jails by 2007. Sources said that the country’s 9,500 prisoners are currently being housed in facilities designed for just 5,500 people. The new jails will be home to 2,400 inmates while the country’s largest, Korydallos in Athens, is expected to cut down on its large prison population. Earlier this month, the recently appointed head of the Supreme Court called on judges not to be too zealous in their sentencing because of overburdened jails. Data show that out of Greece’s total number of inmates, 40 percent are foreigners and of those some 50 percent are Albanian nationals. The government has also taken other measures to help ease the congestion in correction facilities. Debts of up to 2,000 euros owed to social security funds are no longer considered a criminal offense, while other violations have also been downgraded in a bid to keep such offenders out of jail. Some 450 inmates have been freed recently due to the more lenient laws. Other, broader reforms the ministry intends to implement concern the functioning of departments in its domain. For example, officials estimate that the number of unfilled positions among courtroom judges is about 22 percent of capacity, while 20 percent more staff is needed at jails. Personnel shortages have also created a number of headaches for property owners. An example is the land registrar on Salamina, an island adjacent to Athens. The files belonging to the registrar have not been updated since July 2001, meaning that properties bought and sold have not been processed through the system. This has resulted in dual property ownership, the source said, and cases have even been reported where homeowners have had their apartments go under the hammer without their knowledge.