The management in Korydallos Prison and the Ministry of Justice are once again treating female prisoners degradingly and cruelly: conditions are getting worse through a relocation of prisoners to an unsuitable part of the prison that can tremendously affect their safety and well-being. Two hundred female prisoners were ordered to relocate to a much smaller cell block which can house up to 60 individuals creating an overcapacity of approximately 300%. Admittedly, carceral overpopulation is one of the major issues faced by prisoners worldwide, but there is a crucial paradox in this case: the prison management’s stance in providing a solution is unyielding, despite the availability of space in newly built blocks. This goes beyond providing a comfortable living environment since overpopulation can have an adverse effect on hygiene, quality of life and mental health.
Moreover, the current courtyard used by female prisoners is being replaced with the garbage site of the correctional facility. As garbage will still be disposed there, the place is considered extremely insanitary and can pose a huge health risk to prisoners having their yard time there. The women have proceeded to a symbolic action of protest by refusing to enter their cells during noon lock-down and are now joined by men in ward A who are mobilizing in solidarity. They are asking for a delegation from the Ministry of Justice to listen to their demands and visit the place in order to see the appaling living conditions for themselves.
These changes reflect an attitude of complete disregard for prisoners’ rights, women’s rights and Syriza’s very own prison reform policy. In this instance women are being targeted by a very powerful institution that controls their daily lives with the use of physical restriction, armed guards and force. Confinement in itself is a very traumatic experience that offers little to rehabilitation, yet the institution is using its power to make matters worse for incarcerated women. This tactic constitutes an important violation of the rights of imprisoned women and perpetuates patriarchal values of subordination in an effort to subjugate and trap them inside a very unsafe and emotionally harmful environment.
However I’m not suggesting a discrepancy that places men in a favourable position in terms of their relation to the prison authorities. Male political prisoners formerly confined in Domokos supermax prison are under a very strict security regime which violates their rights: Nicos Maziotis is not receiving medical care which is important in order to restore the mobility of his right arm and Nicos Romanos is still not allowed to attend university, despite law reforms granting him educational furloughs after a 31 day hunger-strike in December 2014.
”An emphasis will be placed on the prevention of crime and rehabilitation while prisons must be humane, not only because of the need to respect fundamental human rights, but also because otherwise crime proliferates”.
Nikos Paraskevopoulos, Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights (2015)
Finally, the ruling party’s prison reform policy which proclaimed a transformation of the prison system into a more humane institution has become obsolete by government officials. Inspite of that, it was not that long ago when Syriza law makers and politicians were in support of prisoners’ rights and prison reform. After Syriza came into power the public witnessed a change that became apparent with the government’s reluctance to enforce its own agenda regarding abolition of Type C Supermaximum Correctional Facilities. Hence, prisoners were forced to stage a 58 day hunger-strike pushing for prison reform, abolition of restrictive conditions of incarceration and harrassment of prisoners’ families by the authrorities. Although a law satisfying many of their demands was passed, officials are not considering to enforce the law and these problems persist until today.
Given the current political climate in the country, these issues will not attract the appropriate attention of media/activists. However these constitute significant violations of prisoners’ rights and a repressive exercise of power by the Ministry of Justice.
The following letter was writen by women before the start of their protest:
FIGHTING FOR A BREATH OF AIR
Although at this moment there are three empty wards and each has three storeys, for over six months we have been crammed on one of the floors of the new ward and we have been forced to live in a space that’s not larger than a few square metres.
Hundreds of days have passed since we have been provocatively placed under the regime of inhumane conditions since the interior space and the only corridor for us to use is extremely small compared to the number of prisoners, which exceeds the capacity at any given time. Simultaneously, one of the wards remains completely empty all these months and the other one has been used to house seropositive men since the law mandates that they remain imprisoned separately from the general population as a precaution to avoid spreading the virus.
Regarding seropositive women, the law is violated because of lack of space and they live among the rest of the prisoners, share the same wards, the same toilets and bathrooms. We, 200 women, are forced to walk, eat, chat, talk on the phone to lawyers and family members in a corridor that is two metres wide and 30 metres long and lined up with fridges, ovens, bins and tables which are never more than 50 centimetres apart. The cell block has a 60, maximum 70 people capacity. In this corridor there is neither sunlight nor fresh air, since the only two windows remain shut, one for security reasons and the other in order to keep fresh air coming into the office of correctional supervisors.
If one can picture the conditions we endure based on this description, one can definitely understand that these are anything but humane. This might be only a mental image to some, but to us this is a daily punishment, because if freedom of movement and fresh air are not the basic rights of a human being, then what are?
However, our punishment does not end there. We are now facing another unfair and irrational provocation. We were informed that in a while, our courtyard which was our only hope for a breath of fresh air, green space, a place for movement and work-out will be abandoned in the same way our ward was abandoned and will be replaced with our current garbage site. Again, this space is singificantly smaller than our former courtyard, its made of cement and there is not even one tree planted there. Furthermore, it is surrounded by barbed wire corridors (cages) while a barrier made of metal sheets separates the space we were allocated and the 15 garbage bins containing the garbage of some 250 people which will remain there. The high temperatures in the summer and the harsh sunlight in conjunction with the metal sheets will create unbearably high temperatures for people and the site will constitute a source of pollution and contamination for every living organism.
We repeat as loud as we can that these are not humane conditions for nobody.
We openly and emphatically declare that we will not accept this garbage site-cage as our yard space.
We consider the Ministry of Justice responsible for the informal regime of isolation within the ward which we will be forced to endure should our current yard is abandoned.
For this reasson, since Monday 22nd of June we have refused to enter our cells during lunch lock-down until a competent official visits the site and sees this monstrous creation by Themis Construction ordered by the Ministry of Justice. It only takes a look for anyone to understand that no human being can live without air and adequate space to move and over there the lack of space is evident and the air smells of pollution.
We demand an end to the construction and a confirmation that this space will not operate as our courtyard. Otherwise we will have to escalate our mobilization.
Korydallos Women’s Prison
The male prisoners also not getting inside during lock-down as a sign of protest, wrote the following:
We, as prisoners in Korydallos can only be in solidarity with the other inmantes as we have also experienced and continue to experience the asphyxiating conditions of incarceration in a prison where 2500 people are living in deplorable conditions.
We support the demand of the inmates in the women’s prison for the construction to stop and for the ministry to confirm that the garbage cage will not operate as their yard.
Starting on the 7th of July we are staying out during noon lock-down in order to show our solidarity for the fair demands of the prisoners in the women’s prison.