Council pushes bold jail reforms

Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis yesterday agreed to consider a raft of prison reforms proposed by an independent advisory council, including the reduction of certain jail terms that would result in some 1,500 prisoners being released. With thousands of prisoners across the country on hunger strike this week to protest conditions in jails, the advisory council drafted a list of seven proposed reforms «as a starting point for creating a new climate in the approach toward fellow citizens who are detained in prison.» These proposals include an increase in furloughs granted to prisoners, the introduction of a provision allowing those convicted to jail terms of up to five years to pay off their sentences and the option for convicts serving sentences for drug-related crimes to be released after serving three-fifths of their terms. Another proposed measure is the reduction of the length of time that authorities can remand a suspect in custody pending trial: from 18 months to 12 months. According to the Council of Europe, the average period of pre-trial detention in Greece is nearly one year, three times that in other European Union states. If all the measures proposed by the council were to be implemented, an estimated 1,500 inmates would be released. Hatzigakis avoided responding to the council’s proposals in detail yesterday. But the minister, who last week heralded a series of reforms aimed at improving conditions for inmates and offering additional support for the rehabilitation of drug addicts in prison, pledged he would try to adopt as many of the new proposals of possible. Meanwhile, the organization defending prisoners’ rights said yesterday that at least 4,800 inmates around the country were on hunger strike. «This is one of the most widespread prison hunger strikes we have ever seen and this is despite efforts by guards to break the prisoners’ resolve by visiting their cells with cooked food that smells delicious,» a spokesperson for the organization commented.