These are weird times; governments around the world are doing some strange things, generally in response to urgent budgetary pressures. You might have read in the New York Times about how the Australian navy is about to let its sailors go off on a two-month leave – the report was even on the homepage of that newspaper’s website for a time. And now word comes from the Dutch newspaper Trouw: Athens government to free half of its prisoners.
(It’s true that articles of this sort referencing happenings in another European country would usually cause me to go to that other country’s on-line press to seek more first-hand reports there, but in this case all I can do is plead “It’s all Greek to me!”)
That’s around 6,000 convicted criminals that the Greek authorities are planning to release, pending approval by parliament, according to an announcement by Sotiris Hatzigakis, the Greek Justice Minister. But there may be another 1,500 added to that if he also is allowed to institute another measure reducing the allowable duration of what the Trouw report (credited to the ANP press agency) terms “temporary custody,” which I interpret to mean pre-trial detention – so at least many of those added 1,500 may not be actual lawbreakers.
Why do they want to do this? Overcrowding. If 6,000 is the half, then that means that there are around 12,000 inmates in Greek jails, which the article reports have an official capacity of only 7,500. And how can they be sure that the jails won’t just fill up to bursting again? Well, it seems that drugs laws in Greece are somewhat stricter than the EU norm. (Who would have thought it?) “In the long run,” as the Trouw article puts it (op de lange termijn), the parliament is supposed to take up the task of adjusting those laws accordingly.