Prison vacations and other benefits can lead to breakouts, officials say.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 15/10/13
Prisoners who are convicted of war crimes or serious criminal acts should not be granted vacations, experts said. [AFP]
The escape of a convicted war criminal who failed to return last month to prison after being granted a 25-day vacation is raising questions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) about why hardened criminals are being given the benefit in the first place.
Dominik Ilijasevic was serving a 15-year sentence on his 2007 conviction for taking part in the murder of 38 civilians in 1993 when he was freed by prison officials for an extended vacation. He was to return late last month but instead crossed the border into Croatia, where he boasted about his escape.
"(BiH) agents were watching over me. But when they managed to look around, I was already soaking my legs in the Adriatic," Ilijasevic told Croatian daily Vecernji list on October 4th.
Although prison officials issued a warrant for his arrest, he is not eligible for extradition from Croatia.
Miroslav Mikes, an attorney in Banja Luka, said that the Law on Execution of Criminal Sanctions in BiH allows anyone serving a prison sentence to be released from jail for the weekends or take a holiday after serving part of their sentence.
"This benefit should be abolished for hard criminal acts, such as war crimes, first-degree murders, armed robberies ... It is not unusual that some prisoners commit criminal acts while on that vacation. This practice exists in many countries but with special supervision of the prisoners who are released. There is no such supervision in BiH and therefore, things like Ilijasevic happen all the time," Mikes told SETimes.
Ilijasevic cannot be returned against his will from Croatia because the extradition agreement between the two countries is only valid for crimes committed after the agreement was executed late last year.
Lawmakers admit that the practice of "prison vacation" is often misused, but said the responsibility lies with prison management.
"To let a convicted war criminal take a vacation is absurd," Nasir Beganovic, chairman of the Legislative and Law Commission in the Federation of BiH parliament, told SETimes. "The institution of prison vacation is a good thing and I'm not against it for some of the lesser offenses. People who have committed serious crimes should be under specific measures of supervision and monitoring and I think that the responsibility lies solely on the people who run the prisons. They are the ones who estimate who will be released on a holiday."
SETimes contacted several prison institutions in BiH, including the prison in Mostar that granted Ilijasevic's vacation, but all declined to comment.
BiH has 14 prisons, all of which are filled to capacity. A large state prison, which is expected to expand the capacity of the country's prison accommodations, has been under construction since 2008.
According to the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, more than 2,000 convicted people are waiting to serve their sentences.
Vojislav Gligic, chairman of the Committee for Judiciary, Political System and Administration in the Republika Srpska parliament, said prison authorities and the government should propose amendments to the law to prevent further escapes.
"We should meticulously address this issue and make a decision that will prevent abuse of the institution of prison vacation, but also make sure that we don't violate the human rights of the convicted people. Currently, our law allows that every person can take a holiday if the prison administration estimates that he has earned the rest," Gligic told SETimes.
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