By Alexandros Clerides
Every year we hear that the prison is overpopulated without any actions being taken. At the same time, for so many years inmates in the Central Prison are directly and completely affected by this phenomenon, with disastrous results not only for the prisoners but also for the entire prison system and ultimately the society.
Quite recently, in 2020, the European Court of Human Rights condemned France in the case JMB and Others v France 9671/15 et al. (30/01/20) after finding overcrowding in the country’s prisons and deciding it was a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights regarding degrading and inhuman treatment of the individual. More specifically, the European court concluded that if there are less than three square metres average for each person in the prison then automatically there is a violation of the said article of the convention.
The following refers to the official summary of the said decision: “The court also held unanimously that there had been a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 3 on account of the demeaning conditions of detention resulting from the allocation of personal space ranging from less than 3 sq. m to 4 sq. m, which amounted to degrading treatment.”
In Cyprus, the Ombudswoman for Administration and Protection of Human Rights, as the competent body to examine such issues, in her report dated 11/15/22 on page 18 finds that the Central Prisons had a total of 978 people but has a capacity of 424. This means as a result that the overcrowding in the Central Prisons was 230 per cent.
It is important to note at this point that France’s worst prison in the most recent conviction had overcrowding of 205 per cent.
Furthermore, the ombudswoman in her conclusions said that indeed if overpopulation is at a point that does not leave more than three square metres per person then there is a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
The World Prison Brief responsible for collecting statistics from all countries reports that the overcrowding in the Central Prisons of Cyprus on 20/06/23 amounted to 173.8 per cent.
In 2018, the European Committee Against Torture (CPT) identified that the population of the Central Prison back then did not have the necessary square metres per person, with the result that two people stayed in cells of six square metres and therefore three square metres per person but also less than four square metres in multi-person cells.
At the present stage, October 2023, the Republic of Cyprus is waiting for the new report from CPT in which the issue of overcrowding and detention conditions will be mentioned again after the visit it had to the Central Prisons this year a few months ago.
Alexandros Clerides is a criminal lawyer at Phoebus, Christos Clerides & Associates