Cyprus Mail

Government rejects Akel proposal to change rules on addict inmates

The farm at Ayia Skepi

The government on Monday rejected a law proposal submitted by main opposition Akel to change the process of referring substance addicted prisoners for treatment at an outside centre.

The proposal, discussed by the House human rights committee, provides for exempting from the programme people sentenced to more than 10 years in jail, the use of a bracelet by those undergoing treatment at Ayia Skepi, and their return to prison upon completion of the programme, whose third stage includes social reintegration.

The proposal also says that time spent at rehabilitation should count towards the offender’s prison time.

Prison governor Anna Aristotelous opposed the proposal, telling MPs that the aim was to save lives without discrimination. The proposal, she said, could destroy everything achieved in the past years in cooperation with Ayia Skepi.

Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis said the proposal should be reviewed.

“We all want a meritocratic and transparent referral process from prison to rehabilitation centres and we all want a smooth, and productive reintegration of substance addicted fellow humans to society,” she said. “That is the reason why the final stage of therapy at Ayia Skepi is always reintegration and social work.”

Yiolitis said a drugs user should be treated like a person who needed therapy and not as a criminal.

“All people, free and incarcerated, have the right to therapy, without discrimination. Consequently, the unimpeded provision of therapy to users remains the most important tool against drugs,” the minister said.

Yiolitis said Akel’s proposal left out a large number of prisoners because it set a ceiling on the sentence duration and discriminated among drug users. It also provided for a return to prison after treatment, which would act as a disincentive.

Ayia Skepi currently provides 17 slots for prisoners in what is considered a tough rehabilitation programme. Since 2014 there have been 67 referrals from prison with a 62 per cent success rate.

Convicts who committed manslaughter, murder, rape, or other sexual offences, are not eligible.

Akel’s proposal was also deemed unconstitutional, as was a similar one tabled by Disy MP Annita Demetriou.

In her proposal, Demetriou sought to regulate the prisoner’s release after successfully completing the programme.

Currently, those completing the programme can only be released following a decision by the attorney-general. The prisoner is given a job and is under supervision at a half-way house operated by Ayia Skepi.

Demetriou wanted to make the release automatic, but such a provision clashed with the constitution.

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