This government is evidently capable of showing determination and consistency in the face of crises. Beyond the pandemic and Turkey’s belligerence, though, it also has to deal with the consequences of decades of mismanagement in many fields. Among the many challenges that Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his government face is one of the greatest chronic problems of our society: the treatment of prisoners and detainees.
This government and the previous one tried to improve the situation in prisons and police detention. The main problems for many years have been “overcrowding, serious inter-prisoner violence, low staffing levels, a poor regime and inadequate healthcare provision,” the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) noted in a report made public on Thursday.
Compiled after a visit by members in late March and early April last year, the report notes that the CPT “remains concerned about the dire state of the Greek prison system and the insufficient steps taken to tackle the prison crisis.” It says that the recovery of the Greek prison system must be a government priority. In 77 pages, it depicts the situation in prisons, detention cells and prisoner transport facilities, the behavior of police and prison officials and the “sense of lawlessness” in some prisons – the result of the excessively low number of prison guards and their lack of training.
The government replied with a 28-page response from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Citizens’ Protection. They set out the legislative, administrative, educational reforms, as well as infrastructure improvements, among others, that have either been implemented or are in the works. Among these is the closure of Athens’ Korydallos Prison and its replacement by a new complex just outside the capital, at Aspropyrgos. A CPT representative commented, “Although the Greek response does not address the concerns of the CPT in a systematic manner… it is important that there is a constructive engagement and cooperation going forward to address these very serious issues.”
The needs of prisoners and detainees may not seem like a priority during a health crisis, at a time of great economic uncertainty, when our borders are being challenged. Some may even charge that such criticism right now is another “attack” on the country. But it is precisely because of these difficulties, and because this government seems up to the challenge, that it is time to finish with a chronic cause of shame.