“When I got COVID in December 2020, around half of the prisoners in the Larissa Prison were sick at the same time. We were put into a ward with 60 people, in a space of around 110 square meters. It was a roll of the dice whether you were going to be severely or just mildly ill.” The testimony of Vangelis Stathopoulos, a prisoner of the Larissa Prison, vividly summarizes the situation of Covid-19 in Greek prisons. It is confirmed by the findings of a large analysis of data from 32 countries, conducted by 12 European media outlets led by Deutsche Welle within the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet).
The MIIR (Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting) and iMΕdD (Incubator for Media Education and Development) collected and processed the specific data concerning Greek prisons. This concerned their capacity, overcrowding, covid cases, deaths, access to healthcare and vaccination. In parallel, interviews were conducted with prisoners, specialists and scientists. Other institutional factors were also taken into account in the context of this pan-European research. What were the conclusions about Greek prisons?
MIIR in collaboration with the iMEdD Lab (Incubator for Media Education and Development) and 10 journalist groups of the European Data Journalism Network, led by the Deutsche Welle, collected data from 32 countries showing how many cases and deaths were reported in prisons, how vaccinations progressed and what measures were taken to limit the spread of the virus. Here is the page of the investigation.
The virus spread twice as fast in prisons compared to the rest of society. As a result, one third of prisoners have been sick to date. Explanations include cells with prisoners crowded into a few square meters; makeshift wards without any separation of patients; crowded quarantine areas filled with both healthy people and suspected cases; and insufficient access to healthcare and safety measures. Moreover, prisoners’ rights have been curtailed with the cancellation of visits and activities.
For the data on covid cases, deaths and vaccinations until February 2022, the sources are the General Secretariat for Crime Policy, Greece’s “Special Standing Committee on the Penitentiary System and Other Structures concerning the Detention of Prisoners”, and the “Report on the Coronavirus by the General Secretariat of Anti-Crime Policy” submitted to the Greek Parliament on 12 November 2020 by the Deputy Minister of Civil Protection, Lefteris Oikonomou.
In Greece, the overcrowded prisons have created a favorable ground for the reproduction and spread of the coronavirus. It is not just the fact that based on the comparative data of the research, Greece appears in 7th place (as of January 2020) in the list of the most crowded prisons in Europe – this refers to the official number of prisoners each prison can hold and the actual population living within the walls. It is mainly the investigation’s finding in relation to the minimum living space of each detainee based on international conventions – in 25 of the 34 Greek prisons, this requirement is disrespected, making prisoners even more exposed to the virus.
For the same reason, our comparative analysis of the data reveals a shocking reality: Greece is one of the European countries that had the highest spread of the virus in prisons compared to the spread in the general population. By 2 July 2021, 16 months after the start of the pandemic, it is estimated that 7.9% of the prisoners in total were infected with the virus. The figure for the general population was 4.1%. Transmission inside prisons was almost twice as high as outside the prisons. The situation was similar in Northern Ireland, Italy, England and Wales, Slovenia, Belgium and Catalonia. In contrast, there was a smaller spread of the disease within prisons (compared to the general population) in Hungary, Austria, Spain (excluding Catalonia), Ireland, Switzerland, Albania, Germany and Scotland.