During the first months of the pandemic, the spread of the virus in Greek prisons appeared to have been limited. Today it is estimated that one in three inmates has contracted coronavirus, despite the fact that correctional facilities were operating under a strict lockdown. What went wrong?
On October 22, 2020, the Secretary-General of Anti-Crime Policy, Sofia Nikolaou in a paper to the Head of the Planning Department of the National Public Health Organization (NPHO), urges the organization to conduct tests at Corfu Prison after the detection of two cases of coronavirus in inmates. “Any negligence, we estimate, will provoke strong reactions from inmates with concurring unpleasant situations (riots, deaths) that are difficult to manage,” she wrote in her letter. The NPHO initially scheduled and then attempted to cancel the visit of the unit but after a reaction from the prison warden, it finally tested only the inmates who were in the same ward as the two cases. Seven tests were positive , increasing the number of cases in this prison to nine.
A few days later, a prison officer of Diavata Prison of Thessaloniki, tested positive for coronavirus. This is the time when the country enters the second wave of the pandemic with the number of cases in Thessaloniki soaring to levels higher than in Athens. Sofia Nikolaou sends a new request to the NPHO to proceed to Diavata and the organization sends a unit 15 days later, on November 6. Only 30% of the inmates were tested (160 individuals ) and 65 new cases were detected, i.e., 40.6% positivity rate. “They keep us locked in the wards, 10 people within 20 sqm, which is normally allotted to 5 people, unable to attend to our personal hygiene,” protest the inmates in Diavata, a prison that in October 2020 had an occupancy rate of 149.7% (it housed 536 inmates while it has a capacity of 358 places) and in which the personal space for each inmate (throughout the prison not just in the cell) corresponded to 3.1 square meters, i.e., less than the area occupied by a double bed. Over the next six days, the number soared to 108 (100 inmates and eight prison officers) and on November 12 was recorded the first (officially recorded) death of an inmate from coronavirus in Greece. It was a 69-year-old man who was serving his sentence in Diavata. A few days later a second inmate dies of coronavirus in Diavata. He was 81 years old and suffered from a serious underlying disease.
The issue of the prison situation comes before the Parliament. On November 13, 2020, the Deputy Minister of Citizens’ Protection, Eleftherios Oikonomou, submits data on the cases for the record. According to reports , there are documents in the Parliament’s records stating 110 confirmed cases in prisoners (100 in Diavata, one in Nigrita, Serres, and 9 in Corfu – other reports refer to 10 cases in Corfu) and 33 in employees. “No one can know if and how many cases we have on a weekly basis in Prisons, not even during this critical period, as, despite our repeated calls and public interventions and despite the