By Angelos Anastasiou
CYPRUS, along with Serbia, Italy, Hungary and Belgium, were the countries found to present the highest concentration of inmates in their prisons, a European Council report said on Tuesday
According to the report’s findings, European prisons generally show inmate overconcentration and governments are urged to adopt more alternative forms of imprisonment.
The report on the state of European prisons underscored government inaction in addressing inmate overcrowding.
Based on the most recent available data, between 2011 and 2012 the number of inmates per 100 available spots was reduced from 99.5 to 98 across Europe on average.
But despite the roughly 90,000 reduction of inmate population – a 5 per cent drop from 2011 to 2012 – overcrowding remains a serious problem in 21 prisons across Europe, with Serbia, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary and Belgium leading the way in terms of numbers.
Cyprus tallied an average of 140.1 inmates per 100 places, behind only Serbia with 159.3 and Italy, with 145.4. On the other hand, Cyprus fared much better in terms of average prisoners relative to its population, where it scored 107.9 inmates per 100.000 population, outranking 34 other countries – out of 51 looked at.
The report concluded that courts often dish out imprisonment sentences for lesser offences, resulting in an average of 20 per cent of convicts who serve less than a year in prison.
Based on 2012 data, the report found that out of the total number of inmates held in European prisons 20 per cent were convicted of larceny, 17 per cent for peddling drugs and 13 per cent for homicide.
Meanwhile, 2010 data revealed that the daily average cost of an inmate in Europe in 2010 was €93, while in 2011 this rose to €103.
To address the issue of prison overcrowding, the justice ministry recently undertook an overhaul of the penal system, introducing measures that would see foreign convicts transferred back to their home countries to serve their time, and those jailed for misdemeanours deported instead.
Further, inmates at the Nicosia Central prisons were to be reallocated depending on the length of sentence and level of risk, with those imprisoned for financial debt moved to the safer open prison.
Announcing the reforms early in April, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said the new strategy was a response to the spate of suicides and attempted suicides at the prison between last August and January this year, which prompted calls for changes at the overcrowded facility.
“Overcrowding, violence, lack of activities, exile from family and social networks, and unacceptable living conditions can and do affect the mentality and psychology of prisoners,” said Nicolaou. “Prison should not be a mechanism to take revenge on offenders but a way to help them to social reintegration.”