The results of prison overpopulation: patients in the prison hospital in Korydallos Penitentiary, sleep on mattresses placed on the ground
By Ioanna Drosou
Prisoners in Greece are obliged to donate up to 10 000 euro to a charitable foundation, as a condition to be released from prison. This reform in legislation was introduced as a ‘solution’ to the issue of carceral overpopulation since it would allow prison decongestion. But, for legislators, freedom is not a privilege that comes without a price tag. Seropositive prisoners have brought forward to Epohi, a national newspaper in Greece, that despite their right to release under the new law reforms, they still remain in prison because they can’t afford to donate the amount ruled by the court, to the charity foundation ‘A child’s smile’, due to their lack of monetary funds. More specifically, the court demands 800 euro from D.M., 1 500 euro from I.M., 3 000 euro from S.S. and 5 000 euro from I.M.. Only one prisoner, S.M., was able to deposit the amount of 800 euro that had been adjudicated, in order to become decarcerated.
What if 70% of prisoners have no resources
Let’s take things from the beginning. The statute 100 paragrah 3 of the Penal Code, which describes conditions of release under supervision, mandates the suspension of imprisonment of those serving a sentence between three to five years. If someone has been found guilty for a misdemeanour, instead of being led to a prison cell, he or she is granted a conditional release (with restrictions such as not being able to leave the country or reimbursement for damages caused). Among those conditions that might be enforced, there is one that concerns ‘the obligatory donation of an amount up to 10. 000 euro to any charitable foundation.’
Since there is a serious problem of over-population in Greek prisons (according to data published by the Ministry of Justice at the beginning of the year, there were 12. 018 people in custody while the overall prison capacity in the country cannot exceed 9.286 prisoners). Simultaneously, 70% of all prisoners suffer from poverty and currently, 8 000 prisoners can’t even afford to purchase basic hygeinic products nor clothes. During the last four years, the statute 100 of the Penal Code has expanded and now includes almost every prisoner serving a sentence up to ten years, given that 2/5 of his or her sentence has been completed. Ministers of Justice who have adopted this measure to alleviate the issue of over-population, have ostentatiously reassured the public, from their seats in the Greek parliament, that thousands of prisoners would be decarcerated as a result of the law reforms. Indeed, if there hadn’t been so many exceptions, hundreds of prisoners could have benefited from this and could have been released from prison. (Just to note that, currently, there are 839 people serving sentences up to five years and 3.055 individuals with convictions up to 10 years). An additional cause for the low rate of decarceration, is the court verdict which imposes a mandatory donation of a significant amount of money, to a charity chosen by the court, as a condition for release from prison (the majority of cases involve the foundation ‘A child’s smile’)
They decide and they command
D.M., a seropositive prisoner who was ordered to deposit the amount of 800 euro to the charity, is still incarcerated, despite the fact that the court had approved his conditional release two months ago. Because this condition cannot be fulfilled, he will have no choice but to remain in prison for another seven months until he completes 3/5 of his sentence, which are required for his release. We asked him why he did not negotiate with the judge to improve the terms of this condition, since he suffers from an extremely serious health issue and lack of resources. He replied with the following
‘We do not even get to go to the courthouse and we don’t have money to pay for a lawyer. They do it, they decide. They dont even look at the specifications of each case. They determine the amount and they command you to pay, otherwise you just don’t get out of here’.
We knew this concerns despicable crimes
Many questions arise from these cases. Why should a prisoner be forced to donate money to a charity in order to be released? According to which criteria, does the court decide which prisoners must ‘donate’ for their release and how is that amount estimated? How is the charitable foundation chosen? Why is the charity accepting these involuntary donations? Regarding the final question, we contacted the foundation ‘A child’s smile’, in order to find out their side of the story. Konstantinos Giannopoulos, president of the foundation’s board committee, said that ‘After having been informed of the introduction of law reforms prescribing a donation to charities to those found guilty for commiting serious crimes, we faced a moral dilemma as to whether we should accept this money. Then we learned through a French foundation with a similar cause, that this money is generally used for the creation of structures that protect children from being victims of crime. So, our executive board voted that we do accept these donations and the amount raised through this process, is given to the centre for children’s mental health, which looks after children who suffered torture or abuse’. Later on in the discussion, we informed Mr. Giannopoulos that the majority of prisoners who are serving a 10 year sentence are commonly found guilty on drug related charges or theft, while those convicted for serious crimes usually serve a life sentence… When Mr. Giannopoulos heard that there are four cases of prisoners suffering from H.I.V., who remain behind bars on the grounds of not fulfilling the condition of mandatory donation, he added:
‘I was not aware about criminal cases involving imprisonment of drug addicts, this is unacceptable. What we were told, is that this concerns despicable crimes. We do not want to raise money ruthlessly. It’s incomprehensible to demand money from people who can’t afford to make a donation. Regarding the cases of seropositive prisoners, I simply don’t understand why they are in prison. They should have been released, with under no conditions at all, in order to fight this battle for their lives’.
An ineffective and disproportionate measure
Konstantinos Kosmatos, lecturer at the school of Law at Democritus University, commented on the issue: ‘
The additional requirement in relation to the mandatory donation to a charity, is completely ineffective regarding the purpose of conditional release. The enforcement of this measure on seropositive prisoners shows exactly how disporportionate it is, since it creates conditions that can cause their health to deteriorate’.
Clio Papantoleon, vice president of the Greek Society for Human Rights, added : ‘ The recent reforms for decongestion of prisons have completely failed. This is proven by the fact that the same -otherwise exceptional -reforms are repeatedely introduced year after year, for over a decade now. It has become clear that legislators are incapable to perceive the defects of these reforms, one of which is the obsession with the monetary alternatives to incarceration or conditional release. This is an obsession, because it does not take into account the nature of the crime and the fact that a high percentage of prisoners suffer from poverty which has been repeatedly ascertained in preambles. It has been indicated, that while community service would be preferable in these institutions so that vulnerable populations in prison could benefit from that, this refom constructs a logic that re-introduction to society would be granted in exchange for money in the form of an obligatory donation, enforced upon people who suffer from poverty, illness and loss of freedom. To say the least, this is pointless, if not grotesque, to turn people who are in need of support from social services, into those who generously fund organizations that provide social services.’
We asked the Ministry of Justice to take comment on this problem. The Ministry declared that this is a matter of the court, which examines each case separately, decides whether this condition should be imposed on someone and determines the amount to be donated. Regarding the necessity of decongestion of prisons, the Ministry said that the legislation regarding the ankle monitoring bracelet, serves exactly that.
A member of the organization ‘Initiative for Prisoners Rights’, an activist group that has been making efforts to gather information on all cases involving prisoners who have been instructed by the court to donate money to charities, made the following statement to the newspaper Epohi : ‘We are honestly wondering when donations became involuntary. Why must a prisoner fund these charities as a condition to become a free man or woman? Why are these charities so eager to raise money in this way, from people who are literally being blackmailed? This logic is unacceptable and this aspect of legislation must be abolished immediately. It is nothing more than mere hypocrisy for the Ministry of Justice, to admit, publicly, that 70% of prisoners are poor, with absolutely no resources and still demand that their decarceration is paid in money. Donating money to foundations that help vulnerable segments of the population is voluntary in every country, it is not enforced on anyone. So, why has this become the price tag of freedom to those incarcerated?
Published in the national newspaper Epohi, on Sunday, Sept. 26th