By Angelos Angelides
THE CONSTRUCTION of a medical centre at the Cyprus prisons has been held up due to a delay in approving the funds by the finance ministry, the House human rights committee announced on Monday.
Following a scheduled session on Monday morning, the committee’s chairman Sofoklis Fyttis said that while tenders have been invited for the centre’s construction, the procedure has not yet been approved and the tender deadline keeps getting pushed back.
“The department of public works is ready to begin construction, the justice ministry is eager to start, but the finance ministry is blocking the €2.5 million that is required for this serious and necessary project,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fyttis said, the maximum capacity of the current buildings with some expansions and improvements may accommodate up to 900 people, but the government has yet to decide whether it wants to move the buildings elsewhere.
Various improvements are being made to the prison’s buildings, he said, raising the maximum capacity from 370 to a current 469, but as of Monday the prison’s population was at 545, with the number fluctuating daily.
Linking the issue of the prison’s infrastructure and overpopulation with the increased instances of suicides in the facility, Fyttis said his committee plans to discuss the progress of the measures the government has announced to address the growing number of inmates taking their own lives.
Five convicts committed suicide between late 2013 and early 2014, sparking a riot by the inmates and costing the prison’s acting director – and several of his staff – their posts. Along with the hierarchy shake-up, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou also decided to take a closer look at the causes of inmates’ frustration, coming up with a long to-do list to improve conditions at the correctional facility.
The committee was also briefed on the issue of inmates’ physical separation – also diagnosed as ‘poorly observed’ following last year’s trouble at the prisons which forced the government to take a closer look. Fyttis said there is a nominal separation of newer inmates from long-serving ones, and the practices of release on temporary licence and community service sentences instead of jail time are being followed.