Prison conditions a sad reflection of society

Recent riots have thrown the spotlight on the dire conditions prevailing in Greek prisons. Severe overcrowding in the country’s 26 prisons (10,627 detainees in prisons intended for 6,843) makes it virtually impossible for them to fulfill their role as correction facilities. Prisons have in fact served as schools of crime, for until recently, young petty offenders and persons awaiting trial were piled in together with hardened criminals. Most prisoners have to put up with cramped conditions that are far from humane. In a cell intended for two there are often six or seven inmates and the alarm bells are ringing at Korydallos, Alikarnassos, Ioannina, Komotini and Amfissa jails. The number of inmates per cell is double in the prisons of Thessaloniki, Patras (housing mainly offenders convicted of drug-related crimes), Neapoli, Hania, Halkida, Tripolis and Kos. In «hard» jails such as the one in Larissa (883 inmates in cells intended for 450) prisoners are not allowed all at the same time in the prison yard, while at Amfissa jail 273 people share wards designed for 100. The living space per inmate is 0.7 square meters, when the limit set by the EU is 7 square meters. In Korydallos Prison there are in total 1,960 detainees, well over the prison’s capacity of 640, and only 218 employees to guard them. Conditions at rural prisons such as those of Cassandra, Tiryntha and Ayia is slightly better, as the prisoners enjoy much more freedom, working daily outside or in the prison grounds and returning to their cells at night. One in two prisoners is a foreigner and half of the 4,809 foreign prisoners are Albanians convicted of serious crimes such as manslaughter, robbery and drug dealing serving 10-year sentences or longer. Three in 10 prisoners (approximately 3,068) are awaiting trial and four in 10 (4,635) have been convicted of drug-related crimes. Each prisoner costs the state about -860 a month. The government is concerned about the current plight of prisoners and the serious problem of overcrowding. Prison employees too have gone on strike. Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras aims to resolve the overcrowding issue through the construction of six new prisons with a total capacity of 2,400 prisoners. The new prisons at Drama, Serres and Hania have been scheduled for completion in three years’ time. Relative to its population, Greece has the highest number of prisoners in Western and Central Europe, ranking alongside Albania and Turkey. In Germany most thefts are punished by fines and only 8 percent of these offences lead to incarceration, whereas in Greece 65 percent of such offenders are handed jail terms. More extreme measures are now being examined in some European countries. In Scandinavia, there are waiting lists for places in prison cells and offenders, whose movement is in the meantime restricted, sometimes have to wait a year before serving their sentence, albeit in humane conditions. Electronic monitoring of offenders could provide an alternative to jail terms for petty crimes. According to criminologist Aphrodite Koukoutsaki, «It is a joke to talk about re-socializing in any prison, even one that is like a hotel. In structural terms, a prison is a de-socializing, non-educational institution. It introduces inmates to a sick environment which not only fails to prepare them for society, but creates more problems for them.»