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Our View: Swinging from a brutal regime to a utopia in prisons has not worked

Nicosia central prison

The statement by the attorney-general on the state of the Nicosia central prisons was quite shocking given that the goings on at the facility have always elicited a tight-lipped response in the past.

On Monday, a lawyer for the prison director Anna Aristotelous, said the AG’s statement was a clear attempt to undermine her after she reported police corruption.

There could be an element of truth in that. Aristotelous exposed the chief of the drugs squad who had colluded by phone with an inmate to secure damaging footage of her and her deputy.

However, in many ways, the prisons director has undermined herself.

In the Netflix series, the facility was dubbed ‘The Utopian Prison’, and indeed, seeing a group of inmates singing ‘Anna, Queen of the Prison’ was surreal. Even more embarrassing was the bingo session where the director told the prisoners “You make me a better person”.

This can only be described as virtue-signalling at its worst, as if being a prison warden is akin to being a missionary and not a matter of law and order. A prison warden especially should endeavour to maintain an authoritative distance from inmates, not try to be their friend.

If treating prisoners with kid gloves really did work, it would be the norm, at least across Europe. Although a small percentage of convicts may respond to the ‘humane’ approach, others will remain completely irredeemable but almost certainly, a good majority will just take advantage of what they perceive as a laxness in authority.

The fruits of this have now manifested with the murder of a Turkish Cypriot inmate. By most accounts, the chief suspect is a convict who has had undue influence and free rein to intimidate other inmates; three guards are also listed on the charge sheet, two for manslaughter and one for negligence.

At the start of the Netflix documentary, the host, Raphael Rowe was well aware that the Nicosia prison had a reputation for the brutality of the guards in the past. When he asked about it, one guard who looked as if he had been there a few decades, declared with a straight face that Aristotelous had changed things and now the guards were able to see the prisoners as human beings when before, they did not.

But swinging from a brutal regime to a utopia, from one extreme to the other, at the prisons has clearly not worked and the justice ministry will have to somehow find a middle path.

The laxness that has made Aristotelous so popular among prisoners is clearly not the answer. For years there have been reports of mobile phones and drugs at the prison but nothing was ever done as if the authorities had no idea how it was happening.

All prison authorities, past and present, must have been aware of this. Yet, Aristotelous only spoke out about corruption when the drug-squad chief tried to find dirt on her personally. Had she not noticed what was happening before then?

 

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