Amendment to allow thousands of convicts to be released on probation

April 10, 2012, Tuesday/ 14:24:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK

An amendment to the Law on Conditional Release that was passed by Parliament last week will allow nearly 15,000 convicts to be released on probation, reducing the congestion in Turkish jails, something about which human rights groups have long complained.

According to the amended law, inmates who have served the last six months of their sentence without interruption in an open prison and who are supposed to enjoy conditional release within a year are to be released on probation if they so request. The same is also true for female prisoners with children up to 6 years of age and who are supposed to be conditionally released within two years.

But the amendment met with dissention from opposition members. The amendment stipulates that the case officer will determine whether or not to release the convict on parole and under what conditions. For example, case officers will decide whether the convict will serve the remainder of the sentence doing community service with no pay, be kept under surveillance in a house/neighborhood, or attend rehabilitation programs.

Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies Ali Rıza Öztürk, Ali İhsan Köktürk, Bülent Tezcan and Ömer Süha Aldan strongly believe it should be a judge who decides on the measures to be applied and not the case officer. Past experience shows, however, that courts have been reluctant to offer alternative sentences for convicts and have preferred to confine them to jail until the full term has been served. The government wants to facilitate probation alternatives without going through the cumbersome judicial bureaucracy in Turkey.

The opposition members are also of the opinion that making the prisoners perform community service without pay would be a violation of the constitution, which prohibits forced labor under Article 18. But members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) dismissed this claim, saying that the prisoners would be provided with an alternative way to complete their punishment. Carrying out community service without pay is up to the wishes of the convict, they said.

Commenting on the amendment, which would allow nearly 15,000 prisoners to be released on probation, Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin said: “This is not a law prepared with the aim of emptying the prisons. Foundations for modern forms of punishment are being laid,” referring to electronic surveillance or house arrest for convicts who have less than a year left of their sentence.

The new amendment will only apply to prisoners who have not been convicted on terrorism charges or involvement in organized crime. The aim of the change is to assist prisoners to make a smooth transition back into society and to reduce the risk of re-offending after release.

According to statistics released by the government in February, there are 129,340 individuals -- including those convicted (93,000) and those detained awaiting trial (36,000) -- in prisons across the country. Turkey's prison facilities are operating over their capacity and are far from meeting the justice system's needs.

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