Interview Prisons Human Rights Greece

Prison conditions in Greece: progress still to be made

Interview with Theodoros Papatheodorou, MP of the Democratic Coalition in the Hellenic Parliament

Korydallos prison in Athens (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by tsiros

Within the last few years, prison conditions in Greece have improved: alternative sentences were introduced in order to tackle the issue of overcrowding. And yet, some problems remain, such as a flawed reintegration process. According to Theodoros Papatheodorou, there is a need for more cooperation at the European level.

It would be useful for our readers if you could provide a brief overview of the Greek prison system. What percentage of the total population of Greece do prison inmates represent and how has this changed over the past decade?

The organization of the penitentiary system in Greece is based on general principles from the Constitution, from international conventions, from laws and presidential decrees, as well as from their implementing regulations. The current Penal Code is the text of reference. These principles refer to the rules governing the execution of the sentences and the security measures against freedom, which are imposed by competent Courts, and also to the way prisoners are treated in detention facilities. The implementation of the above mentioned rules is based on the inviolable principles of legality and equity concerning the treatment of detainees, on the respect of the prisoners’ rights and on their legal protection.

The General Secretariat of Crime Policy of the Ministry of Justice has recently conducted a research study (in May 2017) in order to determine for the first time the exact number of prisons places per category of detainees. Until recently, the total number of prisoners in Greece was over 10.000, while the last census of 2017 counted 9.560 prisoners.

According to the official data of the Ministry of Justice, the number of prisoners evolved as follows during the last decade: 2006: 9.964 prisoners, 2007: 10.370 prisoners, 2008: 11.645 prisoners, 2009: 11.736 prisoners, 2010: 11.364 prisoners, 2011: 12.349 prisoners, 2012: 12.479 prisoners, 2013: 12.475 prisoners, 2014: 12.693 prisoners, 2015: 11.798 prisoners and 2016: 9.611 prisoners.

Like in many other European countries, the Greek penitentiary system has some flaws, including the lack of access to healthcare and medical treatment for prisoners. What do you think are the main issues in your country regarding the treatment of prisoners? To what extent are European standards such as the European Prison Rules violated?

The problem of overcrowded prisons seems to be in recession. However, what still remains in Greek prisons is the problem of understaffing in all fields, especially regarding surveillance and medical care. The Special permanent committee on the penitentiary system and other forms of confinement of detainees of the Greek Parliament has visited health care premises in several prisons and has witnessed the huge lack of staff and the absence of a united structure for the provision of medical care. Furthermore, another organizational problem is the low number of educational structures inside prisons. This leads to an extremely low percentage of detainees participating in educational and training programs (only 4%).  

The European Prison Observatory also pointed out some examples of good practices in the Greek prison system. The possibility for inmates to spend a lot of time outside cells being one of them. Which initiatives could be shared and implemented at the European level? Where does Greece stand on the question of alternative sentencing?

According to the latest report of the Special permanent committee on the penitentiary system and other forms of confinement of detainees, the most serious alternatives to imprisonment in Greece are the community service and the electronic surveillance. Both have been approved by the Greek parliament.

Until today, the provision of Article 59 of the Penal Code concerning the day release remains inactive, because the legislator has not yet defined in which prisons day release wings or units will be implemented. Furthermore, community service needs to become an independent sanction in the Greek Penal Code: it can no longer serve merely as a commutation of sentence. Finally, electronic surveillance measures could evolve in order to be used as basic sanction for particular crimes, which are classified as misdemeanor.

How could the improvement of prison conditions be initiated? Is there a need for more regulation from the European Institutions? How could European countries learn from each other on this matter?

The penitentiary system interacts with the system of penal justice. Laws, crime, police, courts, prisons are part of a single system, and therefore this issue needs a holistic approach. Continuous collaboration and exchange of information should be established between the EU member states, especially regarding new penitentiary methods that proved successful. Last but not least, we believe that it is necessary to draw a common European Strategic Plan for the amelioration of the detention conditions and of the detainees’ reintegration process.

Theodoros Papatheodorou is a member of the Democratic Coalition in the Hellenic Parliament. There, he is a member of the Special permanent committee on the penitentiary system and other forms of confinement of detainees.