By Jean Christou
MANY INMATES at the Nicosia central prisons are slow to apply for parole because they think it will take too long, deputies at the House human rights committee heard on Monday.
The committee called on the justice ministry and the parole board to make the necessary changes so the law could be amended to make the system more efficient.
The parole board began working in mid 2013. Prisoners can be released if the board approves their application once they have completed at least half of their sentence, and if that sentence is more than two years, or if they have served at least 12 years in the case of lifers.
Committee chairman Sophoclis Fyttis, speaking after the meeting, said the number of applications so far had been low – only 18 – and out of that only six had been examined by the parole board. These were all from lifers, four of whom were released on parole, and two who were rejected.
According to Fyttis the reason for the low number of applicants was that prisoners were aware that it was a slow process. “It does not give them the hope or confidence to apply,” he said. Those who had made applications though, had shown a change in behavior while their applications were pending, he said because it gave them hope.
The parole board, made up of retired judges, meets only once a week. DISY MP Rikkos Mappouridis said the three-man board was only each paid €50 a session and suggested it might not be worth their while.
“The ball is in the court of the justice ministry to come up with the appropriate institutional changes for the board to work on a permanent basis,” he said. Otherwise it cannot fulfill any meaningful expectations of the prisoners who have served half their sentence or 12 years in the case of those with a life sentence.
The system was also lacking when it came to follow up for those who had been given parole. Fyttis said that if the numbers increase, there will be a need for more supervisors, or parole officers, on the outside. A central meeting point for parolees, such as a half-way house was also a necessity, he said.
AKEL MP Stella Misiaouli said there was currently no coordination or education for those who were released on parole, especially between the ministry and the parole board.
“There is no excuse not to have filed operating regulations for the parole board yet,” she said.
EDEK deputy Roula Mavronicola agreed. “We were told by prisoners during a visit by the committee, that this was an issue of utmost importance to them because it gives them hope to get through prison life and return to society sooner,” she said.
Fyttis said the issue would be revisited by the committee after a planned meeting with the justice ministry. Prison numbers have fallen from almost 700 to just over 500 as part of recent changes within the facility to reduce overcrowding.