A draft law heralded yesterday by Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis aims to reduce overcrowding at the country’s prisons and offer more lenient treatment for those convicted of petty crimes while helping the cash-strapped to pay off their sentences. Under the new bill, those found guilty of petty crimes, such as theft, and who are unable to pay their court costs will not go directly to jail but face alternative punishment such as community service. Defendants sentenced to two or three years in jail will be able to pay off their sentences subject to reduced rates of between 5 and 100 euros per day. (According to existing legislation, the daily rates for paying off jail sentences range from 10 to 200 euros depending on the nature of the offense.) Those who cannot afford to pay the full amount will be allowed to pay off their sentence in installments or do community service. In certain cases, convicts who have not previously served time in jail may have their sentences suspended for up to five years. Kastanidis noted that short jail terms for petty criminals did not generally result in their rehabilitation but had the opposite effect, as the convicts were squeezed into cells with repeat offenders. The minister said a defendant or convict’s lack of financial means should not work against them. «It is socially unjust to keep people in prison purely because they don’t have the money to pay off their sentences or court costs,» he said. Another provision in the bill aims to halve the length of sentences being served by convicts with serious health problems, such as those who are blind, have advanced-stage cancer or are paraplegic. The bill also aims to free up space in Greek jails, which currently accommodate some 12,000 inmates, twice their capacity.