The Justice Ministry yesterday defended prisoners’ right to furloughs (or brief releases from prison) despite the news that last year 20 inmates failed to return to jail upon expiry of their furloughs. Meanwhile police said they had charged a 30-year-old convict with murdering a 60-year-old man in central Athens during a five-day leave from Alikarnassos jail in Crete. The unnamed convict was arrested at Athens airport on Tuesday while preparing to board a plane back to Crete. Officers believe he is behind the murder of Dimitris Kokolinis, who was found with a slashed neck in his Kato Patissia home on Saturday. The ministry had not commented by late yesterday on the arrest of the 30-year-old who, police say, has admitted to killing Kokolinis following an argument. The only statements issued by the ministry were in support of furloughs. «Despite the fact that a small number of inmates violate furlough rules, the cost of this negative behavior is small compared to the benefit for jails which implement this measure,» top ministry official Fotis Vlachos said. «The practice of offering furloughs is justified by humanitarian concerns and if it did not exist inmates would have no motive to be disciplined while in jail.» Out of 12,185 furloughs approved over the past four years, only 468 (or 4 percent) were violated by inmates, Vlachos said. In the case of Malandrino jail in Fokida – which had accommodated the 20 inmates who failed to return after their furloughs last year – the rate of violations was slightly higher, at 8 percent. The ministry stressed that furloughs are only approved by the jail’s disciplinary council subject to certain conditions: that the convict has carried out at least a fifth of his sentence, that he does not face trial on criminal charges and that he is not believed to constitute a risk. In the case of the Malandrino 20, the decisions to approve the furloughs were unanimous in each case. Vlachos said that the ministry writes to jail governors regularly to remind them to observe these strict conditions to minimize violations of furloughs.