Inmates begin hunger strike

Conditions at Greek prisons will improve, the government pledged yesterday, as inmates at almost all of the country’s jails began refusing meals as part of a protest against overcrowding. In a move that had been announced last week, more than half of those incarcerated at 21 of the 24 prisons in Greece began the day refusing to eat breakfast. A rights group demanding better conditions for inmates said that full-blown hunger strikes would begin on November 8. There are more than 12,000 inmates in the country’s jails, which are only designed to hold about 8,000 people. Ioanna Drossou, a spokesperson for the Initiative for Inmates’ Rights, said that another 5,000 people are being held in police detention cells. The group said that in most of the prisons taking part in the protest, almost all of the inmates refused food. At Grevena Jail, for instance, all 180 prisoners took part. In the Korydallos maximum-security prison, half of the prisoners in A Wing and all of the inmates in B, C and D wings took part. This is not the first time that prisoners have taken part in this type of protest against the chronic problem of overcrowding – as well as for better treatment, which includes improved healthcare and special conditions for drug addicts – in Greek jails but they have rarely displayed this level of organization. Their move is being supported by the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), the Greek branch of the human rights group Amnesty International as well as various other groups and organizations. Yesterday’s protest seemed to spark an immediate reaction from Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, who pledged that new jails would be built and existing ones improved. An independent panel of experts also advised the government to reduce the minimum jail term and to release prisoners when they have served three-fifths of their sentence rather than four-fifths. It also recommended that those serving time for misdemeanors be released.