Watchdog criticizes ailing jails

The overcrowding and substandard conditions that allegedly prevail at most Greek jails were the focus of a letter of complaint sent to Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras by Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis yesterday. «This country’s penitentiary system is seriously ailing,» Kaminis said in the letter in which he called for an investigation into the cause of the riots at nine jails across the country, including the high-security Malandrino Prison in central Greece at the end of last month. Kaminis suggested cooperation between the Ombudsman’s office and the ministry to improve the situation. The Ombudsman highlighted overcrowding as the biggest problem, noting that this served to «downgrade detention conditions and encourage violations such as drug dealing.» He said that overfull cells also posed a risk to prisoners’ well-being, either due to chance occurrences such as fires and infections or outbreaks of violence. He described the problem as «an open secret which cannot be kept silent any longer.» Kaminis also criticized the Justice Ministry for refusing to allow a delegation from his office to inspect the jails and turning down inmates’ requests for furloughs. He claimed that decisions by jail directors – to refuse requests for leave and appeals for transfers to other jails – are rarely legally justifiable. Kaminis claimed that such a state of affairs compromises the prison service’s fundamental aim of reintegrating inmates into society. The Ombudsman, who had briefed authorities of his reservations following a visit to Malandrino Prison two years ago, has called for a series of changes to upgrade the jail: adequate heating and running water, the creation of a library and the operation of sports areas, which exist but are not used. The government has so far completed one of the five new jails that are being built to ease overcrowding in prisons. It is also financing the construction of a new prison in Albania so Albanian convicts can serve their sentences there.