by Anastasia Chalkia,
PhD Candidate, Sociologist - MACriminology,
Panteion University of Athens
In 2008 the Ministry of Justice in Greece announced the construction of six new prisons, as a plan for improvement of living conditions of prisoners-a decision which arises many questions, given that crime constitutes a major social issue that troubles both those involved in criminal policy and society as a whole.
Taking into consideration that the criminal policy of a country is an indicator of its legal, cultural and democratic status as it is important for the regular functioning of many fundamental institutions in the future, one must be very skeptical about the construction and operation of the six new prisons.
Moreover, provided that prison plays a central role in social control, as the second most severe form of punishment after the death penalty (if this can be considered punishment)1, many questions arise:
• Why should the State have tackled the problem of overcrowding and poor living conditions in Greek prisons mainly by building new prisons?
• Was that the most rational solution can be proposed?
• Was it part of a wider criminal policy against crime?
• or was it just a fragmentary plan, ostensible and precarious, for the temporary ΄management΄ of overcrowding and poor living conditions in prisons2?
• Could there have been a particular social, political and scientific interest in focusing on who the inmates are today, and what factors have brought them there in the first place?
• Had the Ministry of Justice carried out any research before the implementation of these new measures?
Searching for answers to the above questions it may direct us to solutions other than the expansion of penal institutions in Greece or, in any case, not only to announced ones.
Firstly, the argument linking overcrowding and poor living conditions, to the creation of new prisons, dismisses the possibility of alternatives to prison. By considering it a permanent and inevitable problem, overpopulation will constantly return.
Apart from it, international experience has shown that building new prisons might only exacerbate these problems in the long term and prison expansion can easily become a permanent fact.
David Garland named the phenomenon of the continuous growth of the prison population ‘mass imprisonment΄. Mass imprisonment today constitutes a social institution that forms the everyday experience of racially and ethnically diverse social groups 2.
Internationally the prison population is growing. According to the latest 8th edition of the World Prison Population List, (WPPL)3 there are over 9 million incarcerated people globally. About half are in the U.S. (2.19 million), China (1.55 million) and Russia (0.76 million).The U.S. has the highest world ranking with 738 prisoners per 100,000 residents. In Europe, the average value for Southern Europe is 90, while for Central and Eastern Europe it is 185. In Greece it was 90 per 100,000, according to the census of 2005 (a total of 9984 inmates). However more recent data by the International Centre for Prison Studies in 01.09.2006, shows the inmate population at 10,113, or 91 per 100.000, of which 41.6% were foreigners and 30.3%4 were awaiting trial. Meanwhile the official prison capacity is only 8019 people... This upward trend is confirmed by the same source that shows 6252 inmates in 1992 and 7129 in 1998, whilst in 2004 it rose to 8760.
Particularly, Greece had 12300 inmates (11/08) or otherwise 109 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population5. Compared to the previous years the prison population rate grows faster. For example, the prison population rate was 82 in 2004, 79 in 2001 and 68 in 1998. Furthermore, in 20076 the pre-trail detainees/remand prisoners consist of the 28,6% of the prison population and foreign prisoners were 43,9%.The official capacity of prison system was 7543 and the occupancy level 141,9%. Although, according to the latest official data by the Ministry of Justice7 it seems that the construction of new prisons didn’t lead –until yet- to a great increase of prison population. This can be partially attributed to the new arrangements concerning the serving of sentence that the Ministry of Justice adopted in order to decrease the prison population.
On the other hand, according to the official data by Hellenic Police8 crime rates in Greece seem to be rising in recent years9 while in many other countries seem to be falling.10
However, based on international literature the prison population is not only determined by crime-rates.
Specifically, the increase in prison population is mainly associated with:
a. an increase in crime rates. However, the crime is not directly linked to incarceration rates, which are actually determined by the state policies on crime, e.g. the rising prison population is accompanied by a fall in crime since 1990 in the Anglo-Saxon region and the rest of Europe11.
b. changes in the penal practices. Particularly, the increased probability of a prison sentence (especially in the U.S.) through the use of minimum mandatory sentences, truth in sentencing, three strikes, just desserts, sentencing commission.12
c. the extension of detention periods (mainly in Europe) 13
d. the penal control of drugs and immigration14
Alongside this increase in the prison population there has been a decline in the rate of reform and rehabilitation, both in practical (reduced funding for rehabilitation programs) and theoretical terms (in the form of declarations). The main purpose (overt or not) seems to be the ΄neutralization΄ of the offender.
Ultimately, do prisons serve to function as a ‘storage facility΄ for offenders?
In Greece, what exactly is the scope and how do they operate the correctional and post-incarceration programs and are they evaluated? If so, do they help reduce re-offences and increase desistance?
Moreover, could it be only a matter of time before being formally announced that the establishment and operation of prisons is given over to private sector, as it has happened in many other countries in Europe and US?15
Of all the criticism concerning the privatization of prisons, one point amongst others, should be emphasized: the risk from the expansion of formal social control in relation to its continued privatization.
Note also that the proliferation of private prisons and the high level of imprisonment show a very close relationship.
Australia and the U.S. both have high levels of incarceration; the former has the highest proportion of prisoners in private prisons, the latter has the largest number of private prisons in aggregate 17. Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, which has the highest incarceration ratio in Europe, 10% of prisoners are detained in private prisons; the highest proportion in Europe18.
New questions arise, however, this time focusing on prevention:
• What are the measures of crime prevention in Greece?
• What were assessed as successful?
• Are preventive measures only concerned with ΄security policies΄, policing and infringement of human rights19?
• Is there a balanced policy between criminal and social prevention or is there bias toward the former?
In order to answer the above questions, a systematic approach to crime problem is necessary. This approach, requiring coordinated effort from different actors, can only come from an Institute for Criminal Policy, a development that is still pending in Greek society.
Above all, in contrast to the global phenomenon of rising prison populations, the importance of basic principles of our legal culture,such as leniency, should not be overlooked, it allows the delivery of justice, practically indispensable for the functioning of the State, conducive to its effective realization and greater individualization of penalties20.
Besides, one major difficulty in applying criminal policy is to be lenient while maintaining effective (in contrast to the severity of sentences, easier to apply nevertheless less effective).
Finally, it is important for the State to examine its criminal policy holistically, in particular for crime prevention, and not perpetuate these high levels of imprisonment and the tightening of penal and judicial policies.
Criminal policy must constantly a standing State΄s commitment to the protection of citizens and their human rights as well as a ‘re-invention’ of the social reaction to crime. Ultimately, it is these very conditions that legitimize the kind of intervention/reaction.
The reinvention of social responses is not evident in the ΄tried and tested’ solution of building new prisons, especially when policies of that kind aren΄t part of a broader, rational criminal policy.
The aforementioned issues, having been prompted by the building of new prisons, pose questions towards a more comprehensive and scientifically based approach to dealing with crime, so thjat the criminological knowledge and the social vision of shaping a rational criminal policy will not remain ΄ambivalent΄22 .
Farsedakis, J. (1994) “The ‘penalty’ of death” in Courakis, N. (ed.) Criminal policy, Ant.N. Sakkoula publications, Athens-Komotini, p. 265-270 (in Greek)
 In any case, there are many studies that demonstrate the role of prison in recidivism and the characteristic consequences, especially when extensively applied, see Zarafonitou, C. (2004) Empirical Criminology, Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, pp 229-249 (in Greek)
Garland, D.(2001) ΄The meaning of mass imprisonment΄ in Garland, D., (ed.), (2001) Mass Imprisonment, Sage, London, p. 2
 Walmsley, R. ΄World Prison Population List΄, 8 th, King΄s College London, International Centre for Prison Studies, Jan 2009, http:// www.kcl.ac.uk / depsta / rel / icps / Prison-world-pop-seventh.pdf
Manganas A., (2011) “The crime rates in Greece”, Eglimatologia, Vol. 1, pp.178-179 and Spinellis C. D. (forthcoming) “Contemporary criminality and its phenomenology” in Yotopoylos-Marangopoulos A. (ed) Criminologyin the face of contemporary challenges – One occasion of thirty years of activity of Hellenic Society of Criminology (1978-2009), Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, (in Greek)
Tseloni, A., Mailley, J., Farrell, G., Tilley, N. (2011) “Exploring the international decline in crime rates”, European Journal of Criminology, 7(5), pp. 375-394.
 Christie, N. (1994), Crime Control as Industry: Towards Gulags Western Styles, Routledge, London, pp 26-29
 Mauer, M.(2001), ΄The causes and consequence of prison growth in the United States΄ in Garland, D. (Ed.) , Mass Imprisonment, Sage, London
 Wacquant, L. (2001), Prisons of misery (transl. Diamantakou, K.) Patakis Publications, Athens, p. 130 and Albrecht, HJ ΄Developments in the modern penal system: Prison and detention in modern societies, cited in Haidou , A. (2002), The prison system: Theoretical and practical issues, Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, p. 202 (in Greek)
 Shichor, D. (1995), Punishment for profit: Private Prisons, Public Concerns, Sage, California.
Dimopoulos, Ch., (2002), Private Prisons, Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, p. 157, (in Greek). 
Prison Reform Trust, PRT Briefing, ΄Private Prisons: Who Profits;΄, www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk
 It should be noted that already in ancient Greece, thanks to Aristotelian influence, the importance of ex-penal measures as well as criminal ones for a comprehensive response to crime had been noted. See Farsedakis, J. (1991) Social reaction to crime and its limits: Some historical, comparative, theoretical and practical points, Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, pp 13-17 (in Greek)
 Mangakis, G. A. (2004) “The importance of leniency for our legal culture”, Journal of Penologists “Poinikologos”, 2 / 2004, www. poinikologos. GR / FILE / T 2 e 04. html (in Greek)
 Delmas-Marty, M. (1991), Standards and Trends of the ceiminal policy, Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications, Athens, p. 377(in Greek)
 Courakis, N. (2006), "The ambivalent role of Criminologists in shaping crime prevention policy΄, www.niotho-asfalis.gr/na , pp 1-7:6 first published in N.E. Courakis / N. Koulouris (ed.) (2000) Criminal Policy II, A. N. Sakkoulas, Athens-Komotini, pp 157-162 (in Greek)