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Coronavirus: Public ‘should not be concerned’ about release of non-violent inmates

Nicosia central prisons

The mass release of prisoners is often an emotive and problematic issue but two experts explain why – in their view – the government’s new measures announced on Tuesday were not only appropriate but necessary.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, lawyer Achilleas Demetriades along with Emeritus professor at the University of Cyprus in the Department of Law and visiting professor at Cambridge University, Andreas Kapardis, explained why they supported the move under which some 114 prisoners are set to be released.

“It’s a humanitarian issue and the crisis requires humanity from man to man,”said Kapardis. “We need to think outside the box.”

Demetriades reinforced the point, saying: “If the virus enters the prison it would be catastrophic, and the state has an obligation to look after its people. Just because they are convicted it does not mean that the state no longer has an obligation for their good health.”

“There is ample international guidance and precedent to justify the reduction of the overpopulation in the prison to manageable levels,” said Demetriades.

The lawyer referenced dozens of countries around the world that have taken extraordinary measures amid the Covid-19 crisis.

But should members of the public be concerned over the release of prisoners? The government clarified that the release will only apply to non-serious offenders.

“About 93 per cent of prisoners in Cyprus are serving sentences of less than two years,” Kapardis explained.

“The imprisonment which the court imposes for two years, that’s not what the prisoner will serve. The prisoner will get time off for good behaviour and they can also apply to the parole board.”

They both explained that granting amnesty is a tradition in Cyprus, done so at Christmas and Easter. This time around, however, they argued that this should be expanded.

In terms of the prisoners themselves, and the attitude towards those such as non-violent offenders, “newspapers tend to report atypical crime in a stereotypical way against the background of all prisoners,” Kapardis said.

Prisoners who have been sentenced for serious offences, such as murder, will be neither eligible for an early release nor for home monitoring.

As a criminologist, Kapardis offered his view that:” There is also an unrealistic expectation about the impact of punishment. When we look at the impact of punishment, the only justification for locking someone up for long is protection of society. It doesn’t reduce crime, it doesn’t rehabilitate.”

Kapardis added: “Greek Cypriots, we are Greek Orthodox, and Christianity is about forgiveness and acceptability and now is the time to show that we are Greek Orthodox Christians.”

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