... by Nestor E. Courakis
Professor of Criminology & Penology
Faculty of Law, University of Athens (GR)
This editorial is dedicated to prisons and the Greek penal system since we believe it is the duty of any society to give priority to correctional topics and have as its main objective to improve prison conditions.
How might this improvement be achieved, however? The Greek Correctional Code poses in Article 4 a basic prerequisite, which should, in my opinion, also be considered as the basis for the appropriate treatment of prisoners:
"The prisoner during the period of carrying out his sentence (imprisonement), loses the right to personal freedom but no other individual right is withheld from him. The prisoner, due to their detention, are not prevented from personality development and exercising the rights conferred on them by law, in person or by representation.”
Besides this, the Greek Correctional Code provides a series of other, more significant measures, aimed at a comprehensive "opening up" of the prison towards society, in conjunction with a creative use of time in prison for the benefit of the inmate and an improvement in prison living conditions. I will briefly mention some of these measures, which theoretically should have been put into effect for almost a decade by now, with the voting of the Greek Correctional Code: Day release (art. 59. Greek Correctional Code ), inmates must have eligibility for employment inside or outside correctional facilities (art. 40 in Greek Correctional Code ), granting of educational leave (art. 58 in Greek Correctional Code ), segregation of inmates based on the gravity of the offence (art. 11 in Greek Correctional Code ), education and vocational training in prison (art. 35 in Greek Correctional Code), oversight of the detention conditions by the Jurist who is responsible for the proper enforcement of sentences (art. 83 in Greek Correctional Code ) and - last but not least – essential support for released prisoners throughout Greece (art. 81 in Greek Correctional Code).
However, these important measures are not implemented and as a result the Greek reality is completely different from what the law provides. The specialists and the researchers in everyday occurrence are faced with prisons which look like "human warehouses”: Inmates are packed in chambers or cells or are corralled into the yard under the pressure of an unbearable overcrowding which, however, has begun to decline somewhat recently (in 1/3/2009, there were 11,049 prisoners for 9,103 available places). Furthermore, the proportion of prisoners in relation to the number of prison officers deviates significantly from the requirements of an adequate penal system (4510 employed, in all capacities, at detention facilities nationwide. This equates to a ratio of approximately 1 prison staff members to every 2.5 prisoners, at a time when the proportion in other European countries, e.g. Sweden, is almost the opposite: 1.33 prison staff members for each prisoner in 2007-see. N.E. Courakis and N.K. Koulouris, Penal Control, 20095, § 326, page. 419).
However, the problems which face the Greek penal system are not only due to a lack of space and staff. There are other, perhaps more important factors, that contribute to the current impasse facing Greek prisons. Here we will mention two indicative factors, without overlooking the numerous other problems that exist with regards to hygiene and satisfactory standards of living of the prisoners:
Firstly, the Greek courts impose long sentences and hence extremely severe sentences compared with those of other countries. While in Germany, for example, 75% of the imposed and non-suspended imprisonment in 2003 was under 2 years, in Greece, conversely, 72% of offenders are serving a sentence of imprisonment longer than 5 years (see T. Tzannetaki in Greek Journal of Poinika Chronica (Penal Chronicles) ΝΗ΄ 2008, 690 – in Greek).
Secondly, whilst prison incarcerations should be mainly imposed on offenders guilty of crimes with a acutely antisocial nature, so effectively ensuring the protection of society at large, in practice those "inside" normally belong to one or more of the three following categories: (a) people who have not yet been on trial (indictees) and who are therefore protected by the presumption of innocence, with all that entails for non-temporary detention without serious cause, (b) foreigners often serving sentences for the "crime" (!) of illegal entry, residence, or departure from the country, and (c) drug addicts and/or minor drug dealers, of whom is rightly observed (N. Paraskevopoulos in the newspaper “Eleftherotypia” of 8.11.2008, p. 35 , "Focus" for prisons), "on one hand they are culprits, on the other, victims", and therefore, I would add, people who need special treatment more than incarceration ...
What can be done? To some extent the solutions are dictated by the diagnosis of the problem and its causes. In a word, however, we might say: the application of the Greek Correctional Code to the letter, whilst also amending our legislation (even more) and enabling an infrastructure for prisons – for as long as they have reason to exist - to play their essential role of confining and rehabilitating only those criminals who objectively pose a material risk to society.
And on a more general level: With this issue we celebrate the English-language edition of the Greek electronic journal “The Art of Crime”. It would be trite to discuss here emotions such as elation and hope that of course are called for at a time like this. The overwhelming emotion, at least to me, is gratitude to the main protagonists of this first criminological electronic magazine in our country, i.e. to Fotios Spyropoulos and Dionysis Chionis (in equal measure), who were able to create from scratch such an excellent "podium" of investigation and communication for criminologists, a podium of ideas and – we hope - confrontation, only through which Science of Criminology may progress.
Prof. Nestor Courakis
Director of Center for Penal and Criminological Research