Monday, December 30, 2013

Greece Updates December 30 , 2013 - As Greece prepares to assume the Presidency of the European Union even as the country to careen down to ever lower levels of debt hell , perhaps the clouds over Greece provide a symbolic view of Europe for 2014 !










Air pollution via fire places? Frankly, my dear, Greeks don’t give a damn

Air pollution via fire places? Frankly, my dear, Greeks don’t give a damn

Posted by  in SocietyVery Mix
Greeks got a new top issue to spend the winter with: heating oil tax and heavy air pollution. The conflict between government and citizens will remain unsolved until temperatures start to rise again by end of March. While the citizens demand the reduction of heating oil tax, the government insists on keeping it high claiming some cheap and unconvincing reasons. At the same time, those with no money keep feeding their fire places and stoves with wood through the cold winter nights.
fireplace Xmas
warm Christmas you want, eh?
During the Christmas days, the stinky yellow-grey smog turned Thessaloniki, for example, into a suffocating chamber. On Christmas Day, air pollution broke a record reaching 316mgr/m3, that is double from the alarm level which is 150mgr/m3. And despite the recommendations issued by the ministries of Environment and Health.
On the same day, several ministers of the zealous Greek government left their warm homes, their family table and goodies and held an emergency meeting on the problem. The rest is… history and bad governance.
Ministers of Finance, Health and Environment excluded any option to reduce the tax in heating oil.
The government on Wednesday insisted that it will not consider reducing the tax on heating oil amid warnings that the high cost of the fuel was leading Greek households to rely on fireplaces and wood-burning stoves to stay warm, driving smog to dangerously high levels in several parts of the country.
In a joint press conference held after an emergency meeting on Christmas Day, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis and Environment Minister Yiannis Maniatis said that responding to demands to reduce the tax on heating oil back to 2012 levels would be playing into the hands of fuel smugglers.
They also said that they are taking steps to ensure that households receiving reduced electricity rates because of their impoverished status will receive electricity free of charge on particularly cold days when smog levels are forecast to rise.
“We recognize the problem, but reducing the price of heating oil is not the cure,” Stournaras said in the wake of multiple warnings with regard to the high levels of air pollution in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major Greek cities as a result of households burning wood to stay warm.
“Reducing the cost will boost smuggling and ultimately mean that we are subsidizing everyone, even those who use heating oil to warm their swimming pools, to cite one extreme example,” Stournaras said, adding that the government has taken steps to ensure that more impoverished households are eligible for heating oil subsidies this winter compared to last.
Air pollution on Tuesday exceeded 200 mg/m3 level in Thessaloniki and other parts of northern Greece, and in other parts of the country overshot the 150 mg/m3 level the government last week set as a the trigger level at which it would offer free electricity to poor households.
The government on Wednesday said that it will revising this level down to 100 mg/m3.
Georgiadis supported Stournaras’s position and added that 5 million people are currently eligible for heating oil subsidies, while Maniatis urged households that pay reduced electricity rates to take advantage of the measure and use heating devices that have a smaller environmental impact.
Maniatis also said that it will be up to regional governors to decide when to trigger the measure for free electricity to be provided based on smog readings. (ekathimerini)
They also issued a series of emergency measures to apply during the days of high air pollution like closing schools and nurseries, turn off the heat in public buildings and other genius ideas that will leave the majority of Greek …freezing.
PS The Greek government cannot convince the public how to get warm with conventional means. And frankly, my dear, this government does not give a damn!

- See more at: http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2013/12/26/air-pollution-via-fire-places-frankly-my-dear-greeks-dont-give-a-damn/#sthash.RZjr4P25.dpuf















The Fog of Austerity: This Smoke Cloud Is the Ultimate Symbol of Greece's Depression

You don't need any statistics to fully grasp the depth of Greece's economic crisis. You only need to know about the smoke. 
athens-winter-smog.jpg
Utility bills are now so expensive for Greek families that some have taken to burning wood to stay warm. The result is an eerie fog of smoke looming above the city. (Yannis Larios)A specter is haunting Greece. It leers over rooftops, invades lungs, and nearly glows in the night. It's smoke. Smoke from fire used to warm the homes of Greek families too poor to afford heat any other way. Cut from the mountains surrounding Athens, charred in the stoves and fireplaces of middle class homes, and blown through their chimneys, the unnatural cloud hovering over the capital city has become a bleak metaphor for one of the worst economic depressions in modern European history.
It is the smog of austerity. Greece is literally breathing in the fumes of its recession.
When the country discovered soon after the global financial crisis that it would not be able to pay back its debts, Greece threw itself at the mercy of Europe. In exchange for bailouts, the country agreed to cut its deficit from both ends. Government spending went down. And taxes went up -- on income, on property, and on utilities. Combined with the higher cost of oil, these tax hikes pushed up heating costs by more than 40 percent at the start of Greece's coldest month.
Greek unemployment is the highest in the developed world. The country's GDP faces the worst peacetime contraction of any non-communist European country since the 19th century. Even workers with jobs often have to deal with delayed payments, furloughs, and lower take-home pay due to higher taxes. So, many families have made an understandable calculus: From now on, we'll make out our own heat with wood, a match, and a fireplace.
A BREATH OF AUSTERITY
615 athens fog1.jpgA cloud of smoke looms over Athens with the Olympic stadium (R) as seen from northern suburbs (Reuters)
Summer smog is common in Athens, when vehicle fumes collect in the hot, still air over the city. But this is the first incidence in recent memory of "winter smog" from families lighting fires to keep warm in January, when the temperature at night can drop into the low 40s.
"It is present everywhere in the wider area of Athens," said Alexia Tsaroucha, an English teacher in Athens, in an email exchange. "The problem became particularly evident this year, since the number of people using stoves has increased dramatically."
The phenomenon is reportedly worst in big cities like Athens, with more than four million inhabitants, and Thessaloniki to the North. But the "smog phenomenon," as they're calling it, has been also recorded in smaller Greek cities, as austerity has enacted its revenge on every corner of the country.
"The atmosphere has never been worse," said Marianna Filipopoulou, a social-anthropologist who has lived in Athens for four years. "It's getting more and more difficult to breathe. Even our eyes hurt because of the smog." She said the blame lies, not with families, but with their deplorable circumstances: "There is no other way given the scarcity of money."
A blogger for the site KeepTalkingGreece.com, who asked to remain anonymous, described to me the sensation of breathing in the smoke this way:
"First time, the penetrating smell hit me right in the face was late November 2012. I had just opened the balcony door in the evening when I felt thousands of unknown and invisible particles entering my nostrils and my lungs. An unpleasant smell of gasoline and something else. A pressure on my chest
...
"Since the start of the phenomenon, there have been times that I could not open the balcony door at night even to bring my own firewood inside. Worst was the smog over the city, during the holiday season, when families and friends got together to celebrate Christmas and New Year, when temperatures were low and fireplaces and stoves were working in full power. I personally had felt like I was having a stone sitting on my chest and gauze was blocking my nose."
BURN EVERYTHING
The Greek environmental ministry has warned families to not use their fireplaces as furnaces, but "families have lost workers and can barely make ends meet," said Tsaroucha, who has lived in Athens since she was born. "The increase in the price of heating oil ... and the increased amount of taxes that each household has to pay" have contributed to families' decision to heat their homes with old-fashioned fire from practically anything that will burn -- not only wood, but also lacquered furniture and old doors.
The second symbol of the economic crisis in Greece, after the smog, might be the denuded forests. Greece's environmental ministry estimates more than 13,000 tons of wood was harvested illegally in 2012. The environment ministry has reportedly seized "more than 13,000 tons of illegally cut trees" as families scramble to find something, anything, that will make a fire and heat a room.
"This new plague appears to be democratic," Greek commenter Nikos Konstandaras wrote, "but the veneer of universality is thin -- again it is the poor who suffer most: They live on lower floors, where the toxins congregate, they are forced to burn whatever they find, huddling around open fires and buckets of embers."
615 chopping wood man athens.jpgA worker chops firewood at a wood storage warehouse in Chalandri suburb north of Athens (Reuters)
Perhaps you've heard of the "Environmental Kuznets Curve." It's the basic theory that, although the initial burst of industrialization often degrades the environment (look at Beijing), the wealthiest societies tend to have the healthiest environments, as they develop sustainable living and cleaner, more expensive technologies (look at San Francisco).
But "Greece is regressing," said Iain Murray, vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "As it becomes poorer, its environment suffers more." Between 1961 and 1998, the concentration of particulates in London fell from an average of 160 micrograms per cubic meter to less than 20. That's what coming down the curve looks like. "The current levels in Greece are reaching 300 micrograms per cubic meter," Murray wrote. That's what going back up the curve looks like.
One Greek blogger compared the scene in Athens to a passage from Charles Dickens' Bleak House, dramatizing the fact that Greece faces a truly pre-industrial crisis in post-industrial country: "Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes -- gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun ... Fog everywhere ..."
Tsaroucha says families feel they have no choice but to harvest trees, tear wood from their walls, and throw furniture into their fires to burn it into the sky. They face the dilemma of "either saving the environment or keeping their households warm," she said.
In January, the Wall Street Journal reported a familiar scene in the woods surrounding the Greek capital. An environmentalist named Grigoris Gourdomichalis had caught an unemployed father of four illegally hacking away at a tree in the mountains. They had a confrontation. The property was government-owned, as Gourdomichalis told reporters Nektaria Stamouli and Stelios Bouras. But finally, the environmentalist relented. After the father began to cry, he let him walk back to his house to burn the wood from the tree.











Monday, December 30, 2013 1:35 AM


Toxic Smoke Cloud Engulfs Greece; Six Years of Relentless Recession; Horrific Statistics


Please consider a mass of grim statistics regarding Greece, via translation from the El Pais article: Ruined Greece takes the helm of the EU in the first half of 2014
 On January 1, Greece assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union in a state close to suffocation, not only via austerity adjustments since 2010, but also literally, by a toxic cloud fueled by wood fires that replace conventional heating.

The beret dense smog that grips these days Athens or Thessaloniki is also a metaphor for the political gridlock: the government insists on not lowering the tax on heating oil to intractable limits for broad social layers, but a group of 41 deputies of the conservative New Democracy (ND), rector of the bipartite Executive, has unsuccessfully raised a parliamentary motion to reduce it. An authentic rebellion aboard the party of Prime Minister Andonis Samaras. ND and Pasok socialist now number just 152 seats in a House of 300, and the rebel MPs representing about one-third in the ranks of ND.

The mutiny of the conservatives is just the penultimate chapter of an intestine, economic, but with clear political implications, the result of six years of recession and unfathomable weariness of citizenship to the endless cuts crisis.

Horrific Statistics

  • A 27.4% unemployment (nearly 52% among those under 24 years)
  • 3.8 million Greeks living in poverty or social exclusion in 2012 (400,000 more than the previous year)
  • 350,000 households without electricity for non-payment bills
  • 30% of the population have no access to public health care
  • Virtual paralysis of the universities, which since September run almost unattended by the dismissal of officials
  • Three killed by asphyxiation because of home fires for warmth
  • Four out of five blocks of flats facing the winter without heating due to inability to afford it
  • 21 continuous quarters recession
  • 34.6% of the Greek population at risk of poverty or social exclusion

Political Setup

  • SYRIZA, leads most polls of likely voters ahead of ND
  • Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn caress between 9% and 11% of the votes and consolidated as the third political force
  • Only 33% of citizens believe possible ND victory if the election were held today
  • The once mighty Pasok, houses more than a trashy expectations 5% support, compared with 44% of votes in 2009

How much longer the "New Democracy" government of Prime Minister Andonis Samaras can hang together remains to be seen.

Should Samaras lose a vote of confidence for any reason, the Greek house of debt that that cannot and will not be paid back all comes crashing down.

For those counting, Greece received 240 billion euros in aid, in a foolish attempt by the Troika to keep Greece in the eurozone. Most of the loan has been earmarked for the recapitalization of banks and the payment of interest on the debt, which now accounts for 157% of GDP.

Germany and the ECB are adamant there will not be writedowns on that debt. Both are in fantasyland.

Default, accompanied by a messy eurozone breakup awaits.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock




and......






Greek, German gov't officials condemn shooting outside ambassador's home


Prime Minister Antonis Samaras telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday shortly after a pre-dawn shooting at the German ambassador’s residence in Halandri, northeastern Athens, an assault which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described as "very serious."
According to sources, Samaras assured Merkel of the Greek government's determination to bring the offenders to justice.
Six people were being questioned in connection with the incident by police who gathered 60 spent bullet casings from the scene of the shooting. The bullets came from two Kalashnikov assault rifles, according to police who were seeking to establish whether the weapons have been used in previous attacks.
Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos described the shooting as an attempt to cast Greece in a bad light ahead of the country's planned assumption of the EU presidency.
Steinmeier said Germany was taking the attack "very seriously." "Nothing, nothing at all can justify an attack against a representative of our country," he said.
He expressed his satisfaction at the quick response by Greek authorities in investigating the incident, adding that the assailants would not succeed in harming Greek-German ties.

ekathimerini.com , Monday December 30, 2013 (13:28)








Long queues at tax offices for final installments and road tax


Long queues formed from early on Monday morning at tax offices around the country as Greeks sought to hand back car and motorcycle license plates and take care of outstanding tax obligations before the end of the year.
Taxpayers have today and Tuesday to pay their road tax for 2014, pay the last installment of income tax, pay the installments of property tax for 2011, 2012 and 2013. It is also their last chance to return license plates if they do not wish to use their vehicles next year and avoid paying road tax for them.
Until Monday, some 2.2 million vehicle owners had not paid their road tax for 2014.
The general secretary for revenues Haris Theocaris told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency that any decision on extending the deadlines would have to be taken by the Finance Ministry. However, tax offices are due to remain closed on January 2 and 3.

ekathimerini.com , Monday December 30, 2013 (09:32)







SYRIZA with narrow lead over New Democracy in Kapa Research poll


An opinion poll published in To Vima weekly on Sunday gives SYRIZA a lead of almost 1 percentage point over New Democracy.
According to the Kapa Research survey, SYRIZA gathers support of 22.5 percent compared to 21.7 percent for New Democracy.
Golden Dawn is in third place with 7.5 percent, followed by the Communist Party 5.8 percent, PASOK on 5.6 percent and Independent Greeks on 4 percent.
Democratic Left did not pass the 3-percent threshold for entering Parliament, gathering just 2.8 percent. Almost 20 percent of voters were undecided.

ekathimerini.com , Monday December 30, 2013 (10:32)





Tax authorities target deposits


Those with debts to the First Tax Office of Athens, the Tax Office for Corporations of Piraeus, and the tax offices of Ilioupoli and Kifissia will be among the first to have the amounts owed seized from their bank accounts.
The Finance Ministry’s general secretary for public revenues, Haris Theoharis, announced on Friday that the abovementioned tax authorities will launch the pilot scheme to seize bank deposits electronically from taxpayers with debts to the state in a process that lasts less than 90 seconds.
The ministry aims to expand the program to cover all of the country’s tax offices within the month of January.
Ministry officials state that the aim of the new program is to force taxpayers who can pay their debts off but have not to date to do so. The first to be targeted will be those who have debts to the state in excess of 100,000 euros.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday December 29, 2013 (21:07)




Firms monitoring Turkish crisis

 Companies exposed in the neighboring country express concern about political turbulence and lira slide

By Anestis Dokas
The political storm that has been raging in Turkey in recent days, which may well lead to a general election, has caused nervousness among the officials of the more than 500 Greek companies with subsidiaries in the neighboring country. However the latter believe that things are still under control as far as their investments are concerned.
The biggest worry for Greek firms is the continuing slide of the Turkish lira, which has lost over 25 percent of its value in the last six months compared with the euro. This negative development has pushed up the price of Greek products there, but at least no problems have been seen in interbank transactions, company representatives have told Kathimerini.
“There is no problem with our investment in Turkey, but certainly the crumbling of the Turkish lira has had an impact on Greek exports,” said Michalis Panagis, chief executive at Eurodrip, which has a subsidiary (Eurodrip Damla Sulama) in the neighboring country. Having experienced the Egyptian crisis, Panagis added that “banks [in Turkey] are operating normally, there is no problem with interbank transactions, but the question is when the crisis will be defused or whether the country will go to the polls.”
Constantinos Rozakeas, chief financial officer at listed firm Sarantis, noted that “apart from the issue of the lira slide, we have no problem with our exports in Turkey. The country is definitely going through turbulence from the torrential political developments and an election is the most likely scenario. The interbank market remains normal, as is the case with the operation of Greek bank subsidiaries.”
National Bank of Greece officials are not too concerned about the impact of the Turkish crisis on its subsidiary in the country.
They note that the sale of 20 percent of Finansbank has a long-term horizon – up to the end of 2017 – so the current political unrest should not affect its plans.
They explain that there is no pressure or commitment for the immediate completion of the transaction, which would have created problems due to the conjuncture.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday December 29, 2013 (20:45)


 

http://www.myfoxdc.com/story/24326123/greek-prison-system-collapsing-labeled-inhuman#axzz2oxo6zsxo



ATHENS, Greece -
More than 30 men were crammed into the cell, locked up night and day for weeks or months. Without enough bunks, many slept on the floor. The windows were painted over, blocking out the sun, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke and the reek of the one toilet everyone shared.
But what might come as the biggest surprise about this prison was its location: In Greece, squarely in Europe. That's where former prisoner Giorgos Aslanis spent about three months in a roughly 40 square meter (400 square feet) police holding cell in the northern town of Serres. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in October that conditions in the cell broke European laws against inhuman or degrading punishment and awarded him 8,000 euros ($11,000) in damages.
Greece suffers the worst prison overcrowding in the European Union, according to figures in the Council of Europe's latest annual prison report, published in May. Inmate numbers reached a record high this year, and many prisons simply refuse to accept new arrivals. That leaves hundreds caged for months as they await trial in police holding cells designed for stints of hours or at most days. Suspects and convicts are often bundled together, in violation of Greek and European law.
The Associated Press pieced together this stark picture of Greece's prison crisis from about 20 interviews across the system; reports from Greece's parliament and European rights bodies; documents from within the prison system, an exclusive letter from the head of an appeals court and a confidential police report.
"It's a system," said Spyros Karakitsos, head of the Greek Federation of Prison Employees, "that is collapsing."
The crisis is playing out as Greece goes through a dramatic economic meltdown. As a result, prison populations are surging even as funds for guards and facilities are shrinking, a toxic mix that police and justice officials warn could explode in violence at any time.
The Greek government says it is trying to improve the situation. During a recent parliamentary debate, Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said the government is trying to build new prisons and reduce crowding. And earlier this year, Costas Karagounis, deputy justice minister at the time, acknowledged a problem and pointed to several initiatives to tackle it, such as opening new prison wings and introducing non-custodial sentences under electronic monitoring.
"There is indeed a big problem of overcrowding in Greek prisons, which has intensified," said Karagounis.
Since many prisons are at double or triple capacity, several hundred people are stuck in police holding cells with no access to the outdoors. Often they are in pre-trial detention, which has an 18-month limit under Greek law. About 34.1 percent of those held in Greek prisons were awaiting trial in 2012, according to the International Center for Prison Studies, as their cases wound through an overburdened justice system at a snail's pace.
The Council of Europe's latest annual penal statistics, published in May and covering 2011, show Greek prisons were at 151.7 percent capacity on Sept. 1 that year. They showed 12,479 inmates were crammed into 8,224 available places.
And the number of inmates has increased steadily. In January 2010, Greek prisons held 11,364 inmates, according to the Justice Ministry's website. On Nov. 1, they reached 13,147, according to Greek prison system figures obtained by the AP. That doesn't include those, like Aslanis, held in police stations.
Recent Greek prison system documents from late 2013 list a higher capacity number of 9,886 places across the country, but the number is deceptive as it includes at least five prison wings in two prisons that remain shut due to budget cuts.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a rare public statement in 2011 slamming Greece for "a steady deterioration in the living conditions and treatment of prisoners over the past decade." Before that, the committee had only singled out the prison systems of Turkey and Russia. The committee, a body of the Council of Europe, visited Greece again in April but has not yet released its report.
Aslanis, arrested in June 2009 for multiple thefts, was ordered jailed pending trial that December after failing to pay a 1,000 euro ($1,340) bail. The Greek debt crisis was just beginning. The local prison in northern Greece was full, and he ended up in the squalid police holding cell.
Aslanis said he had about 35 cellmates. Beds went according to hierarchy: Whoever was there longest got the next free bunk, unless a new arrival was sick or elderly.
"It was very bad in there. I've been inside again for some other cases, but that place ... there's no ventilation, there's dirt ... there is no hygiene. What can I tell you .... If you don't live through it, you can't have an opinion," Aslanis told the AP. Aslanis was eventually tried and convicted, serving his time in two prisons until being released in January 2011.
His is one of the latest in a string of European Court of Human Rights rulings against Greece in which the state has been ordered to pay tens of thousands of euros to dozens of plaintiffs. On Dec. 12, the court awarded 8,500 euros in damages to Vassilis Kanakis, a 51-year-old serving a life sentence for drug trafficking, over conditions in Larissa prison in central Greece from July 2009 to March 2011.
Police holding cells also pose a security problem, because they lack the robust exterior walls of real prisons. A confidential police report obtained by the AP about a police holding facility in the country's second largest city of Thessaloniki warns of the "immediate danger of escape" due to a combination of overcrowding, stretched staffing and lower security. The eight-page October report by the head of the facility details squalid conditions in which 15-20 men are stacked into nine-bunk cells with small windows, where they remain around the clock for months.
"The security of detention is .. put at risk by the potential for rebellion or uprising by the inmates with unpredictable consequences, because of their living conditions," the document said.
The head of the Thessaloniki appeals court wrote a strongly worded letter to the justice minister in early November, in which he complained that conditions in the center "do not ensure the minimum threshold of dignified living."
"I was ashamed, Mr. Minister, for the Greek state and for each one of us separately," Panagis Yiannakis wrote in the letter obtained by the AP. He noted that inmates were held "without any separation between juveniles and adults, suspects and convicts, drug addicts, perpetrators of financial offences and of particularly base crimes."
"What is inhumane and totally unacceptable," Yiannakis said, "is that these people ... do not go out into a yard for five or six months, which means that for the entire time, they never see the sun."
A court in the northwestern city of Igoumenitsa went even further, ruling last year that 15 migrants were justified in escaping from a police lockup because the conditions were "miserable and extremely dangerous for human beings." The men had spent between nine and 45 days in a 15 square meter (160 square foot) cell holding 30 detainees, sharing a single chemical toilet and sleeping in shifts. The cell was never cleaned, and the men had no water to wash with. Many suffered from "lice, fleas, psoriasis, typhus, skin disorders and other . communicable or non-communicable diseases," court documents show.
Greece's prisons have become hidden victims of the financial crisis, of little concern to the legions of struggling families outside. The price of billions of euros in emergency loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund has been a draconian austerity.
Greece's prison budget has been reduced from 136 million euros in 2009 to about 111 million euros this year, the Justice Ministry said. In comparison, the Netherlands, with a similar number of prisoners - 12,110 last year - had an annual prisons budget of about 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) for 2012, according to the Dutch government's Central Bureau of Statistics.
At the same time, about 300 prison guards who retired over the past two years were not replaced, a roughly 15 percent reduction, Karagounis said. That leaves about 1,500 internal guards for the country's 33 penitentiaries, according to the prison guards' union.
With staff numbers shrinking, inmates in Greece's largest prison, Korydallos, outnumber guards 250-1 on some shifts. On Dec. 13, the union said seven inmates attacked a guard attempting to shut the prison's exercise yard. Less than two months earlier, an inmate stabbed another guard three times with a makeshift knife and wounded him seriously. Another guard was stabbed in the back last year after trying to break up a fight between inmates.
The tottering system comes under added pressure from what lawyers and human rights groups say is the overuse of pre-trial detention, which they say has become the norm rather than the exception, and from the harshest sentencing by far across the European continent. While an average of 3 percent of Europe's inmates were serving sentences of 20 years or more in 2011, in Greece that figure was 37.7 percent, according to Council of Europe data.
Rights groups argue that more use should be made of agricultural prisons where low-risk inmates grow crops and prepare for life after release, the only prisons now far below capacity. However, the government decided in November to instead convert large sections of its agricultural prisons into normal penitentiaries to help relieve overcrowding elsewhere. The government also said it is addressing the issue through a law passed in October allowing some inmates to be released with electronic tagging, a first for a country where alternatives to custodial sentences are almost never used.
Recovering addict Giorgos Hatzinassios has served a total of six years in five prisons for a drug offense and drug-related theft. The worst, he said, was Korydallos, technically a remand jail for those awaiting trial. On Nov. 1, the men's section topped 265 percent capacity, with 2,127 inmates for an official capacity of 800, prison system statistics show.
"In the winter, when the windows are shut, you can't breathe," Hatzinassios said.
Another four former Koydallos inmates described squalid cells with barely enough space to stand.
"It's a rotten jail, a rotten building where nothing works anymore," said Marianthi Patseli, a 47-year-old with several drug convictions. "The plumbing doesn't work, the sewage doesn't work, the heating doesn't work, nothing works.
"We're talking about basic human conditions. These don't exist in Korydallos because there is no room."