By Jean Christou
A new study estimates that the government can build a brand new prison for 40 per cent less than the previously forecast €500 million, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said on Monday.
Nicolaou, briefing deputies at the House human rights committee for the second week running, said without a new facility Cyprus would not be able to have a modern prison system in line with EU standards. The economic crisis has put a bit of a dent in the state’s plans and forced a rethink on the size and structure of the new complex.
“While earlier studies concluded that the cost to build new prisons was about half a billion euros, today we are talking about a cost of approximately 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the original cost,” Nicolaou said.
He said the new study dramatically reduces the size of the new facility from 60,000 square metres to 30,000 square metres.
The new prison would have a capacity for 1,000 inmates and 332 guards compared to the existing system with 553 prisoners and 441 guards, which is closing in on almost one guard for every prisoner.
“The savings that can be made are such that now, with this new study the project is feasible,” added Nicolaou.
A new facility would be created through public-private partnership (PPT) but the legislation to cover the method is not yet in place. It is expected to pass through the House by year’s end. Nicolaou said PPT was the most cost effective means for the government.
He said the first bill to do this would be tabled to the House in the next few days and by September a systematic study of the changes to be made will get underway.
In the meantime work is ongoing to alleviate the problems at the current facility following a spate of suicides and attempted suicides in the second half of last year.
Prison numbers have fallen from almost 700 as some inmates were moved to the open prison and a number of others sent back to their own countries to finish out their time. According to a report in a UK newspaper last week, Cyprus has sent back 17 British inmates to the UK.
The daily lives of prisoners have also been improved and they are being offered more social and educational activities.
Nicoloau said today there would be a ‘graduation’ for prisoners who have completed training programmes, and that a deal had been clinched with the education ministry to start a prison ‘night school’ come the autumn.
Nicolaou said there was a now a “new philosophy” in the treatment of prisoners.
“I want to assure that we will continue at the same pace so we can accomplish the changes that we seek,” he said.
In addition, the long-awaited medical wing would become operational from June 30, the minister said after the appointment of a second psychiatrist recently to the prison service. There will also be an occupational therapist and nursing staff required, he added.
Deputies at the meeting seemed to welcome the changes, saying the state appeared to be moving in the right direction.
Yiannis Polychronis, deputy head of the Association for the Protection of the Rights of Prisoners, also welcomed the effort being made by the authorities. He suggested a few issues that still needed to be covered such as the lack of special programmes for younger offenders, delays in looking at parole requests, and the ongoing housing of non-convicted suspects with convicted prisoners.