Inmates reject proposed reforms

As thousands of prisoners refused meals for the tenth day in protest against jail conditions, Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis yesterday pledged to push through reforms to ease overcrowding and boost support for inmates addicted to drugs, of which there are many in Greek jails. But the measures were dismissed by members of an organization representing the prisoners, who said a hunger strike involving more than 5,000 inmates would continue. «After 10 days of protests inside the country’s jails, it is unacceptable that the basic demands of some 10,000 inmates regarding their detention conditions have not been met,» the organization said in a statement. Speaking after talks with President Karolos Papoulias, Hatzigakis heralded a two-phase reform process «to decongest prisons and tackle the difficult world of drugs in a humane way.» In the first phase the minister said he would table a bill in Parliament, by next week, aimed at easing the overcrowding that is causing unrest and tension in many jails. It had been suggested that certain inmates reaching the end of their sentences or needing medical attention could be released, but Hatzigakis did not clarify whether this would be the case. The second phase of reforms, which will demand significant funding, foresees the construction of additional jails and the launch of a methadone program to help rehabilitate heroin addicts. There are also plans to incorporate prison hospitals in the state health system, the minister said. Prisoners have asked for an increase in furloughs, the introduction of a provision that would allow those serving jail terms of up to five years to pay off their sentences as well as the reduction of remand time from 18 to 12 months.