By Evie Andreou
The attorney-general’s office rejected reports on Monday that drug dealers are dodging prison sentences by being admitted to rehabilitation programmes.
AKEL MP Irene Charalambidou reported last week that inmates convicted for drug dealing were being released early from prison because they are set free as soon as they complete a rehab programme in Ayia Skepi.
Ayia Skepi is a private organisation, founded by the Bishop of Limassol Athanasios, offering a rehabilitation programme for drug addicts.
Charalambidou said that she had a list of names of inmates sentenced for drugs, whose sentences were suspended after they completed a rehabilitation programme at Ayia Skepi. She also reported that an inmate who had been sentenced to several years in prison but had gone to Ayia Skepi and then escaped was only arrested until after she found out about it and intervened.
At least five people who were sentenced to several years in prison for drugs had their sentence suspended and will be released after they complete their rehabilitation programme, she said.
Charambidou said that following her enquiries, the justice ministry’s permanent secretary explained to her that when inmates successfully complete the rehab programme, a certificate is sent from the institution to the attorney-general, so that they do not return to prison.
On Monday, the attorney-general’s office denied the MP’s claims.
“Everything that has been said on the automatic release of inmates after completing the rehabilitation programme, regardless whatever the remaining sentence is, is not true but also impossible, as any part of the offender’s sentence can only be written off by presidential pardon and not with temporary suspension,” the attorney general’s office said in an announcement.
The notion that a rehabilitation programme for inmates is being or can be used by some for early release is “rejected and unthinkable,” it said.
The office said if an inmate’s request to enter the programme is granted they are given a temporary 18-month suspension. Since the programme was launched, 21 inmates were admitted after having their sentences temporarily suspended, seven of whom completed it successfully and returned to prison to serve the rest of their sentence. The remaining 14, continue following the programme.
If an inmate leaves Ayia Skepi without permission, the attorney general’s office is notified and it terminates the suspension of his or her sentence and they are immediately returned to prison.
An inmate is only released after the successful completion of the rehab programme if his or her sentence is also expected to expire at the same time.
Ayia Skepi on Monday said that no one “escaped” from its rehab programmes. Some people withdraw voluntarily, it said, and returned to prison, while some who were not in a position to follow the therapeutic demands of the programme were expelled.