Authorities rarely say why leave passes are rejected

Leave passes allowing prisoners to see their families and stay in some contact with the outside world comprise the majority of applications received by the Citizens’ Advocate Bureau. «The majority of applications concern rejections of applications for prison leave,» said Andreas Takis, assistant advocate and head of the human rights department. «If there is something that keeps prisoners sane throughout their incarceration and enables them to observe the rules it is the sense that they still have some link to the outside world. Leave passes are the only hope they have. Yet the system has been under frequent criticism, because there are cases where prisoners have violated the terms of their leave, committing crimes while out, but they are just a drop in the ocean. The majority of prisoners really benefit by it.» Efthymios Fytrakis, an expert working with the Citizens’ Advocate Bureau, said most rejections were not even accompanied by a justification. «Prisoners have the right to have their applications evaluated according to the law,» Fytrakis said. «A simple rejection does not reassure them. If anything they see it as yet another injustice. In some cases, the authorities may have proof for their decision, such as the fact that the inmate committed 10 violations of the disciplinary code over the past six months or had met former associates while on leave or is planning an act of revenge. Even so, the reason should be given.» The situation is much worse for foreign prisoners, who often don’t have family or a permanent residence outside the prison. «They are also at greater risk of fleeing abroad,» he added. Another cause for prisoners taking their case to the bureau is rejection of a request for transfer to another prison. «Life is very difficult for a prisoner who doesn’t get visitors,» Takis said. «The support of one’s family and friends is vital. Of course the authorities might refuse this request because there is information that the prisoner is planning to escape. Again, we feel that the prison administration should provide its reasons for the rejection in writing.» Often prisoners are transferred elsewhere against their wishes. «It is hard for a prisoner who has been given an opportunity to better himself at a particular prison – for example by attending a Second Chance School – to lose that opportunity by being transferred somewhere where this might not be available,» Takis said. «The same applies to disciplinary action. Reasons should be given. Isolation is a terrible measure that deprives the prisoner of contact even with fellow prisoners.»