Rights groups hail jail reforms

Organizations representing prisoners’ rights yesterday welcomed the provisions of a law drafted by Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis which aims to ease overcrowding in prisons and boost support for inmates who are addicted to drugs. The bill, which aims to grant early release to thousands of inmates nearing the end of their jail terms and to include prisons in the state health system, was broadly well received by representatives of the groups who attended a debate in Parliament. The president of the National Human Rights Commission, Costis Papaioannou, said the proposed measures were «welcome» but stressed that immediate action for easing severe overcrowding in prisons should not be confused with the need for a more general overhaul of the penitentiary system. A spokesman for the Initiative for Prisoners’ Rights, Panos Lambrou, described the legislation as «a positive first step» but called on the government to also curb crimes such as drug dealing that are thriving within the jails themselves. Meanwhile, in a related development, a ministry official explained that a provision in the new legislation foreseeing the early release of inmates aged over 80 would not apply for a former military officer involved in the junta of 1967 to 1974. Dimitrios Ioannides, 85, seized power in the final months of the dictatorship and was jailed for life in 1975. He also organized the 1974 coup d’etat in Cyprus which overthrew the government of Archbishop Makarios III and led to the Turkish invasion of the island. The reforms drafted by Hatzigakis foresee the early release of some 5,500 inmates by April. They also allow those convicted to terms of up to five years in jail to pay off their sentences. Convicted large-scale drug dealers will be excluded from the new arrangements. Earlier this week, Hatzigakis said he would do his best to ensure that some 3,700 prison inmates entitled to early release according to the new reforms would be home by Christmas.