Greece’s prisons fester in poor conditions

The tragedy in Cell 80 of Greece’s largest prison, Korydallos, in late March – when three inmates burned to death and another was seriously injured after a fire broke out in their cell – prompted Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras to announce the government would be speeding up changes to Greece’s beleaguered correctional system. The deaths highlighted the situation prevailing in the country’s 26 prisons, built for a total of 5,584 inmates but now holding over 10,000. Convicts are housed together with those awaiting trial, long-term prisoners with juvenile offenders, drug dealers with common criminals. A year ago an effort began to separate prisoners according to the category of their crimes, but little has changed. Most prisoners are living in inhuman conditions, with six people often squeezed into a cell designed for two. Korydallos, Halicarnassus, Ioannina, Komotini and Amfissa prisons are desperately overcrowded. Prisons in Thessaloniki and Patras – where many of the inmates have been jailed on drug convictions – are holding double the number of prisoners they were built for. The same goes for jails in Neapoli, Hania, Halkida, Tripolis and Kos. In the high-security prisons of Larissa and Corfu, convicts do not all exercise together. At the Prevantorio prison in Amfissa, 265 are sharing cells built for 100, and every prisoner has just 0.70 meters of living space, a fraction of the European Union’s recommended seven square meters. Conditions are slightly better at the farm prisons of Ayia, Cassandra and Tiryns, where a small percentage of inmates have some freedom (they work outside the prison during the day and return in the evenings). Nearly one in two prisoners (about 4,000) are foreigners, half of them Albanians. Most of the prisoners have been convicted of serious crimes such as murder, robbery and drug crimes, and are serving sentences of over 10 years. In Korydallos, 2,262 prisoners (in quarters designed for 640) are guarded by 218 staff members – essentially one guard for every 10 prisoners. There are another 238 external guards. Six new facillities Over the past 15 years, only one new prison has been built out of a projected total of 17, and none of the existing ones has been renovated. The new prison at Malandrino, near the Mornos dam that supplies Athens with water, is now at capacity with 290, mostly inmates jailed for life. Papaligouras has pushed to speed up construction on six new facilities for a total 2,400 inmates. The first, in Trikala, is expected to be ready very soon, followed by another at Domokos by the end of summer. Within 2007, the Grevena facility is expected to be finished. Scheduled for completion over the next three years are three more in Drama, Serres and Hania. Most of the new prisons will take inmates from Korydallos, which is scheduled to close. Meanwhile, improvements in living conditions are proceeding slowly. A review of premises has been made in many facilities and inmates redistributed according to the length of their sentences, the type of crime and their age. The women’s wing at Korydallos has seen the greatest improvement, with the separation of juveniles, adults, mothers with babies and those convicted of drug crimes. Young offenders’ and mothers’ cells have been painted in bright colors, and they are permitted to have personal belongings, toys and more furniture. Moves have also been made to improve vocational training, with the cooperation of the Second Opportunity Schools. A model school has been built at the Avlona juvenile facility and new education programs have been offered to prisoners.