The Greek government is planning tougher conditions for furloughs for hardened criminals, following repeated instances of notorious terrorists walking away from prison after a holiday leave or disappearing after being released from pre-trial detention.
The government sent a draft bill to Parliament that would prevent convicts serving life sentences from being furloughed until they serve at least 20 years, including the first 10 years in a high-security prison.
Authorities also said they plan to turn a jail in central Greece into a prison solely for housing high-security-risk convicts.
The move comes after two embarrassing incidents for the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who made the fight against crime a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign.
Nikos Maziotis, leader of the terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle (ELA), vanished after being released from a maximum 18-month detention because he had not been brought to trial.
Christodoulos Xiros of the November 17 terrorist organisation, who was serving six life sentences for his role in six killings, did not return to prison from a Christmas vacation last January.
The Xiros incident prompted the government to fire the warden of the high-security Korydallos prison where Xiros served his sentence. The prison had experienced a series of security breakdowns, including two escapes by helicopter by the same men.
The government also mandated law enforcement to quickly ensure that other terrorists are not furloughed, especially after it was revealed that another imprisoned terrorist was regularly let out to take college classes.
Analysts said toughening the rules for furloughs is necessary and the sensible thing to do to ensure public safety. “[That is because] the recent Xiros affair proved beyond a reasonable doubt there are big holes in the existing security system,” Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told SETimes.
Klapsis said furloughs are a privilege and should not be extended in cases where there is a basis to suspect dangerous convicts are a threat to society.
Greek police said they suspect Xiros and Maziotis teamed up in a car bomb attack outside the Bank of Greece main branch in Athens on April 10th. Revolutionary Struggle later claimed responsibility.
Xiros sent a threatening video over the internet shortly after leaving prison, warning of a return to violence. The authorities said they are also investigating whether the escaped extremists collaborate and whether the members of another extremist group, Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, helped Xiros plan his escape.
While reforming the furlough program, Greek authorities offered for the first time monetary compensation of 2 million euros for information leading to the capture of Xiros and Maziotis.
“A balance should be kept and that means implementing tougher measures, surveillance and controls as well as providing provisions to enable these persons to re-integrate in society as law-abiding citizens,” Ioannis Michaletos, an analyst at the Institute for Security & Defence Analysis in Athens, told SETimes.
Michaletos said such measures are important because under Greek law, convicts sentenced to life serve in most cases 25 years and sometimes only 15 to 17 years, which opens the opportunity to request furloughs.
“[Next] the correction facility system is Greece should be overhauled — many more changes are needed,” he said.
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)