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Greece: reforming prison system and ending police ill-treatment are urgent priorities, says CPT

After a visit to prisons in Greece last year, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) recommends that the Greek authorities remedy structural problems that have led to enduring ill-treatment of detainees, prison overcrowding and staff shortages, among other issues.

The report, published today together with a response from the Greek authorities, acknowledges some positive measures since the last CPT visit to Greece in 2015. For example, the delegation observed more relaxed and informal exchanges between prisoners and their families and children at Korydallos Men’s Prison. (see executive summary in English – in Greek).

But too many fundamental problems persist. Examining the situation of persons detained by the Hellenic Police, the report concludes that police ill-treatment remains a “frequent practice throughout Greece”. Moreover, the current system of investigations into allegations of ill-treatment is ineffective. The CPT calls on the Greek authorities to ensure that all police officers in the country understand clearly that any form of ill-treatment of detained persons constitutes a criminal offence and will be prosecuted accordingly.

As regards prisons, far too many prisoners continue to be held in conditions that represent an “affront to their human dignity”. Urgent steps to reduce overcrowding at Korydallos Men’s and Thessaloniki Prisons, both operating at over 140% of their official capacity, are required.

Poor material conditions matched the overcrowding in most wings at Korydallos Men’s Prison: the CPT found up to seven persons in a 9.5m2 cell containing filthy mattresses and blankets, infested with bed bugs and with mould on the walls and ceiling. Conditions in certain sections at Korydallos Men’s Prison and in the unsupervised disciplinary unit at Nigrita Prison were so bad that they can “easily be considered to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment” according to the CPT.

The CPT calls on the Greek authorities to decrease occupancy levels so as to ensure that every prisoner has at least 4m² of living space, excluding the sanitary annexe, and is provided with their own bed. No prisoner should have to sleep on a mattress on the floor. Prisoners must also be given appropriate hygiene products and regular access to hot water.

The report also documents that prisoners, not staff, control the prison wings and that there were increasingly high levels of inter-prisoner violence and intimidation in the prisons visited. Many violent incidents remained unreported or even unnoticed.

On a general level, the CPT recommends “more decisive action”, including that the Greek government draft a second and more detailed Strategic Plan for the Penitentiary System for the years 2021 to 2025. “The recovery of the prison system must be a priority of the Greek government, together with the Hellenic Parliament and the judiciary as a whole”, the report states.

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