Prison reform

The outrageous escape yesterday of American murder convict Peter Sedhom was the last straw. Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos reacted in a direct and dynamic fashion. He suspended the prison warden and six prison officers at Athens’s Korydallos prison – including Antonis Aravantinos, president of the National Federation of Prison Officials. The most important development, however, was Petsalnikos’s decision to purge the jail of corruption. It is a well-known secret that the capital’s jail is run in accordance with the laws of the underworld rather than those of the State. A reminder is needed that the jail break of the aforementioned convict was not an isolated, unfortunate incident. We should not forget the transfer of criminal Costas Passaris to the Geniko Kratiko hospital where he escaped after killing two policemen. Neither should we forget the recent murders of gangster Theodoros Grigorakos and Albanian bank robber Constantin Papa within the walls of the prison. Responsibility for these incidents, as well as for many other less well-publicized ones, has yet to be attributed. In truth, the Justice Ministry has only belatedly started the process of restructuring the penitentiary system – but better late than never. It is no coincidence that Aravantinos has served in this prison for more than 20 years. And it is no coincidence that when former Justice Minister Giorgos Kouvelakis accused him of being part of an illegal gang, it was the minister who lost his post while the prison officer remained intact. The Korydallos prison guard clearly enjoys strong protection and has availed himself of his friends and the media to become a television star. His supporters claim that Aravantinos is in the know and thus is the most suitable person to deal with prison trouble. This argument, however, is an admission that Korydallos prison has become an uncontrolled institution whose administration requires special connections and exchanges with its gangster inmates. It is hoped that now that things have come to a head, Greece’s justice minister will get down to business. He must crack down on the rings which have turned Korydallos into a jungle that oppresses the overwhelming majority of inmates. Kathimerini will stand by Petsalnikos and support his efforts because it knows that the interests which desire to preserve the existing status quo will try to block his efforts. They know how to. They have successfully done so in the past.