Jail reforms heralded amid unrest

Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis yesterday heralded the launch of a series of reforms aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system and improving conditions in the country’s jails, where overcrowding has reached extreme proportions and ailments such as tuberculosis are reportedly thriving. Kastinidis announced the reforms – which foresee regular medical tests for inmates as well as psychological support for those deemed to require it – as inmates at several jails across the country refused meals in protest at worsening conditions. According to sources, hundreds of inmates at Korydallos Prison and other jails in Patra, Corfu and Grevena boycotted their mess halls with some reportedly threatening to stage a protracted hunger strike until conditions improve. Kastanidis said that if the protests occurred now it would give fodder to opponents of much-needed modernization of the prison system and the introduction of a new criminal justice system. Antonis Aravantinos, the president of the country’s union of jail wardens, said detention conditions were «wretched,» with jails accommodating around 12,600 inmates, nearly double their intended capacity. «The system is collapsing, it is operating beyond its limits, thanks to the good will of employees and the patience of the inmates,» said Aravantinos, the former warden at Korydallos. The reforms outlined by Kastanidis foresee cooperation between state hospitals and accredited nongovernmental organizations aimed at improving inmates’ access to physical and mental health checks. Already specialists and psychiatrists have started visiting some of the larger institutions, sources said. According to humanitarian aid group Doctors of the World, the most worrying disease spreading through several jails is tuberculosis, though there are no figures to indicate how many people are infected. There are also many cases of manic depression and schizophrenia, the aid organization said.

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