Minister says conditions are improving as Serbia increases its prison capacity and modifies laws.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 05/06/14
A recent Council of Europe report said Serbia leads Europe in prison overcrowding. [AFP]
Serbian authorities are improving the capacity of the country's correctional institutions, but overcrowding remains a problem, experts said.
An April report by the Council of Europe showed that Serbia ranks first in Europe in prison overcrowding.
The report, relying on 2012 data, showed that Serbia had 11,070 inmates but a prison capacity of 6,950, giving it an average of 159 prisoners per 100 beds.
Italy ranked second with 145 inmates per 100 prison beds, and Cyprus had 140 prisoners per 100 prison beds.
The overcrowding problem is most acute in Serbia, Cyprus, Hungary and Belgium, according to the report, which stated that on average in Europe there are 98 inmates per 100 prison beds.
The capacity of correctional institutions has increased during the past two years, said Nikola Selakovic, justice minister of Serbia. The country's prison capacity has risen to 9,300 inmates since the Council of Europe compiled its numbers.
"Compared to 2012, the situation has changed and improved conspicuously. Infrastructure projects are still among the priorities, as are the works on the adaptation, additional building and construction of new correctional facilities," Selakovic told reporters.
Moreover, Serbia passed and implemented laws that provide alternative forms of punishment as opposed to prison sentences for some crimes, creating much-needed budgetary savings, he said.
Selakovic also said the government focused efforts on improving the penitentiary system between 2010 and 2012, adding that such initiatives would continue through the strengthening of the alternative sanctions system.
The government announced it will open nine offices by 2015 for the application of alternative sanctions, including community service.
Deputy Ombudsman Milos Jankovic said despite the recent improvements, conditions in Serbian prisons are still not satisfactory and the country has not met all EU standards.
"It is impossible to have any kind of privacy if there are 30 to 40 people in one prison room. The goal of the prison punishment to have a corrective effect is not being achieved," Jankovic told SETimes.
Jankovic said most overcrowding occurs in the large correctional institutions, where groups of 15 inmates spend all day together in rooms spanning 30 square feet.
Serbia's Lawyers Committee for Human Rights issued a statement calling on the government to improve the conditions in Serbian prisons as soon as possible.
"If that does not happen, we may also see serious consequences in the negotiations with the European Union, since we will not be able to open Chapters 23 and 24 that pertain to the rule of law," committee representative Milan Antonijevic told SETimes.
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