Cyprus’ penal system has become a model to study for experts from member countries of the Council of Europe (CoE), Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said on Thursday.
In his address at the closing ceremony of the prison school, Nicolaou said that Cyprus’ system has been radically transformed for the better in recent years and that the Republic has been asked to organise the Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison and Probation Services next May.
“This is an honour for our penal system and for the Republic of Cyprus,” he said. He added that this will also be an opportunity for CoE members to study Cyprus’ prison system, “which, within a short period of time has succeeded in overcoming the problems that were mainly highlighted in reports of the anti-torture committees of the Council of Europe and the United Nations and to move on to radical changes in areas that are close to the interests of prison directors of CoE member states.”
Nicolaou said that the adoption of the framework for the provision of health services within prisons, the continuous care of vulnerable prisoners by psychiatrists and nurses and the operation of the mental health centre in wing 10 of the central prisons, have, in recent years, made Cyprus a model for study by foreign experts, since self-harm is common in prisons.
At the same time, he said, there have been programmes to help inmates who have used addictive substances and support and facilitate the access of users to treatment facilities such as referrals of inmates to Agia Skepi Therapeutic Community for rehab and the implementation of the DANAE rehab programme.
The minister also referred to a bill on the revision of prisons which is in progress and provides for the protection of prisoners’ rights “and innovative changes aimed at creating a prison system based on anthropocentric detention and strengthening the processes of reform and productive social reintegration of prisoners.”
With regard to overcrowding in prisons, Nicolaou said that there has been significant improvement.
“For example, while in the previous years overpopulation amounted to 214 per cent, having a capacity of 340 people and the population exceeding 700 prisoners, today the number of prisoners is around 650, while the prison capacity has grown to 566 people,” he said.
He also referred to a study prepared by his ministry on community work as an alternative to prison sentences.
According to Prison Governor Anna Aristotelous there are six schools in the central prisons that can meet the educational needs of all inmates in secondary, higher education and vocational training, in the same way as everyone else.
During this school year, she said, 108 inmates attended classes of the prisons’ technical school, 78 of whom seeking a diploma, and 30 attended as observers. Another 31 inmates attended high school classes.
While up to three years ago only one fourth of the inmate population attended the educational programmes offered, the figure now has risen to 75 per cent.
The same is true for access to higher education, Aristotelous said, as while in the past no prisoner had access to higher education, currently, 15 inmates are university students aiming to obtain undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees.
In general, Aristotelous said, efforts are focused on simulating living in non-prison conditions on the basis of the “work-life balance” model, so that the time of the inmates is balanced, as much as possible, between education, family, work, recreational and athletic activities and living in their personal space, in this case, their holding cell.