Minister heralds prison reform

Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis yesterday heralded a series of reforms aimed at improving conditions at jails across the country, as inmates at 21 of Greece’s 24 prisons continued to refuse meals in protest at overcrowding. Hatzigakis pledged the reforms, to be introduced by the end of the year, following talks with representatives of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which backs the prisoners’ demands. The minister conceded that the situation in Greek jails is «a complex and complicated problem» that concerns him greatly. The reforms that he described would aim to improve living conditions for inmates and would include provisions aimed at offering additional support for the rehabilitation of drug addicts, who comprise a large proportion of inmates in Greek jails. The reforms also foresee stricter inspections of those arrested on drug charges to distinguish alleged users from dealers and ensure that the jail terms they are given correspond to their alleged crimes. Hatzigakis agreed to a request by SYRIZA for the creation of a cross-parliamentary group that would conduct regular visits to prisons, monitor conditions and make recommendations for improvements. The minister described this request as «logical,» as it would boost the smooth running and transparency of the penitentiary system. SYRIZA also asked that authorities review the issue of the lengthy pretrial detention of suspects. According to the Council of Europe, the average period of pretrial detention in Greece is nearly a year, three times that in other European Union states. A spokesman for SYRIZA said Hatzigakis «had given a realistic response to our demands and is seriously considering ways to curb prisoner numbers.» Meanwhile, Greece’s Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis expressed his concerns about the various problems in the country’s jails. «The country’s penitentiary system is seriously ailing,» he said. He highlighted overcrowding and drug dealing inside prisons as the chief problems.