The newly appointed deputy director of the Central Prisons Haris Philippides said on Wednesday his three priorities were modernising the correctional system, reducing prison overcrowding and tackling corruption.

Hosting MPs from the House legal committee, Philippides also showed the committee members the area currently designated to temporarily accommodate minors until the establishment of a specialised juvenile detention facility outside the Central Prisons, as mandated by legislation.

Acknowledging the “serious problems faced by the current system”, Philippides assured that he would exert all efforts to achieve the set goals, stressing his intention to develop action plans with specific timelines.

He also mentioned issues affecting prison staff, who he deemed overworked.

“The way we treat prison staff is vital,” he said.

“It is a very stressful environment [for them], as they come into contact daily with people who, for one reason or another, are at the worst phase of their lives,” the Central Prisons deputy director said.

“Personally, for me, the protection and support of our prison officers, combined with that of the human rights of inmates, as they may have lost their freedom, but they have not lost their rights, constitute a core part of my actions.”

Responding to whether he is satisfied with the plan regarding juvenile detention facilities, Philippides said that he would be when they were relocated outside the Central Prisons, meeting European standards and staffed with specially trained personnel to handle this vulnerable group of inmates.

“Meanwhile, the prison staff are doing their best with the available resources.”

Regarding the reported circulation of mobile phones and drugs within the prison, Philippides said that the problem affects most correctional systems worldwide, including prisons considered of the highest international standards.

“High on our priority list is to minimise these incidents to the fullest extent possible and where possible to eliminate them,” he said, adding that measures have been initiated.

I cannot detail the measures as they relate to state security, but I can tell you that the results will be visible to the public.”

When asked about his plans to combat corruption within the system, he said that, when the action plan was ready, he would elaborate more.

“Corruption is a perennial scourge in all societies,” he said. “Wherever corruption, collusion, or similar situations are identified, there will only be one answer, and that is zero tolerance.”

Speaking after Philippides, the House committee chair Nikos Tornaritis, also addressed the issue of overcrowding, pointing out that Central Prisons currently house over 1000 inmates, while the maximum capacity of the facilities is for 545.

These numbers alone sound a major alarm for all of us,” he said.

According to Tornaritis, a total of 31 individuals under the age of 21 and four under the age of 18 are currently held at the prison. However, he said that the space where they are currently held “is in good condition”.

“However, the time has come for the state, the government and all stakeholders to seriously consider the possibility of relocating the Central Prisons.

Cyprus needs modern prisons, meeting 2024 standards, not those of 1950,” he said, urging the government to examine the issue as soon as possible.

“We are here to give, to help, to legislate, with the welfare and human rights of prisoners in mind, but also that of prison staff.”