Prison unrest spreads across the country

Prisoners in at least nine jails yesterday staged protests about the conditions in which they are being held, prompting riot police to move into Korydallos Prison, Greece’s largest jail, in Athens to quell a demonstration amid fears that some inmates were trying to escape. In one of the widest protests of its kind, prisoners at Diavata Prison in Thessaloniki, Aghios Stefanos Jail in Patras as well as facilities in Trikala, Komotini, Hania, Larissa and on the island of Corfu refused to eat or to return to their cells. In some cases, such as at Korydallos, inmates climbed onto the roof of the prison. Prison guards had earlier prevented convicts from using the exercise yards because they feared copycat protests. Some inmates, however, made it onto the roof and began tearing down barbed-wire fences. Riot police used tear gas to force the prisoners back into the jail. Seven inmates were slightly injured in the process. The demonstrations were sparked by a protest at the maximum-security Malandrino Prison in central Greece that began on Monday. Prisoners there refused to return to their cells and then went onto the roof and began voicing demands. They said that they were protesting conditions at the jail. They also alleged that prison guards had beaten one of the inmates. Authorities denied the claims. The inmate in question, Yiannis Dimitrakis, is one of the highest-profile prisoners at the jail. The 29-year-old was one of the so-called «robbers in black» that staged an armed robbery on a National Bank branch in central Athens last January that led to three people being injured in the ensuing shootout. Some 460 people are being held in Malandrino, which only has a capacity of 280 inmates. Almost all of the inmates had climbed onto the roof yesterday. They demanded better conditions and the reduction of life sentences to 12-year terms and changes to other sentences. Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras acknowledged that the facilities at Greek prisons had to be improved but he said there was no room for debate on sentencing. «The government will not negotiate upholding the law… but we are willing to listen to prisoners’ grievances,» he said. Overcrowding is a feature of most Greek jails. The government has so far completed one of the five new jails that are being built to ease the problem. Greece is also financing the construction of a new prison in Albania so Albanian nationals can serve their sentences there rather than in Greek institutions.

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