Prison bill foresees early releases

Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis is today submitting in Parliament reforms aimed at easing overcrowding in the country’s prisons and reducing jail terms for hundreds of inmates, particularly drug addicts who need rehabilitation. According to Hatzigakis, these reforms satisfy 14 out of the 16 demands made by thousands of prisoners in their second week of a hunger strike in protest at detention conditions. If the reforms are voted through, some 1,500 inmates stand to be released from jail, the minister said. The inmates to benefit from early release would be those found guilty of misdemeanors who have already served one-fifth of their sentence in the case of a two-year term and one-third of their sentence in the case of a longer term. The reforms also contain a provision allowing those convicted to terms of up to five years in jail to pay off their sentences. Those convicted of large-scale drug dealing will be excluded from all exemptions. An organization called Democratic Rally, which backs protesting prisoners, yesterday dismissed the Justice Ministry’s initiative, noting that the release of a relatively small proportion of prisoners was not a comprehensive solution to the problem of overcrowding in jails. The reduction of the length of time that authorities can remand a suspect in custody pending trial and the introduction of more effective measures to rehabilitate drug addicts in jail would be more useful initiatives, the group told a press conference at the Athens Bar Association. Internationally acclaimed composer Mikis Theodorakis also expressed solidarity with protesting prisoners yesterday, sending a letter to the Initiative for Prisoners’ Rights, another organization lobbying for improved detention conditions. «What goes on behind the bars of every Greek jail should embarrass every citizen of this country,» he said. He stressed the importance of «securing decent and humane living conditions so that every detainee can have the opportunity to think and try to improve himself so that one day he can return to his family, to society.»