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Thursday 17th of October 2019

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Ms. Angelika Pitsela. Faculty of Law, Economic and Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Greece.

Tuesday 25th of May 2010 | National, Greece

Mrs. Pitsela, associate professor of Criminology at the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology of the School of Law, analyses and presents the juvenile justice system in Greece, and its situation in relation to the consequences of the current socioeconomic crisis in this country. Regarding the reform of juvenile criminal legislation in Greece, Angelika explains some of the changes that have been brought in by this law, among others, an increase in non-custodial educational measures.


Angelika Pitsela graduated from the School of Law of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and obtained a Ph.D. at the Law School of the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg (Germany). She has worked for the Criminological Research Group of the Max-Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg (under Scholarship of the Max-Planck Society) and for the Criminological Institute of the University of Cologne. She now serves as an Associate Professor of Criminology at the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology of the School of Law of the Faculty of Law, Economic and Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She teaches Criminology, Juvenile Law, Penology and Penitentiary Law, and Economic Criminal Law to undergraduate and postgraduate students, and also holds seminars for doctoral students. Additionally, she gives courses in German on Juvenile Law, Criminology, Penology and Penitentiary Law to foreign students under the auspices of LLP/ERASMUS Program.

QUESTION.- In recent decades, forward steps have been taken to improve juvenile criminal law. What are the prevailing principles of the new Greek legislation?

ANSWER.– The Greek juvenile justice system has been traditionally characterized by the principle of education, protection, support and integration of the minor. Particularly, the new law (Act 3189/2003 ‘Reform of Criminal Legislation on Minors and Other Provisions’, in force since 21 October 2003) aims at strengthening not only the principle of education but also the rule of law (‘due process of law’) and care for crime victims in the way that the juveniles’ (re)integration into society can be achieved. The modernization of the juvenile justice system came through the adoption of a large variety of non-custodial educational measures which consider the deprivation of liberty as a measure of last resort, the development of non-custodial therapeutic measures, the consideration of the victim’s interests, the abolition of indeterminate sentences, the introduction of diversion at the prosecutorial stage and the extension of the scope of the right to appeal to a higher judicial body etc. Thus, the prevailing principles of the Greek legislation are the confrontation of juvenile delinquency via educational non-custodial measures and the use of juvenile detention, including pre-trial detention, as a measure of last resort (ultimum refugium). Other guiding principles are: ‘principle of minimum intervention’, ‘education instead of punishment’, ‘principle of subsidiarity of the official criminal procedure’, ‘principle of trained professionals at all levels’, etc.

Q.– What is the current situation of children and young people in Greece? Indeed, in the context of the socio-economical situation of Greece, what are the main consequences on the lives and rights of children?

A.- There is a large percentage of families (nearly 20%) under the poverty threshold in Greece. Their bad economical situation affects the life and well-being of their children. As regards young people, they confront a large percentage of unemployment, larger than the elder people. In particular, pupils feel strong pressure from the family and school environment for optimal responsiveness to the increasing needs of the educational system. They considered their professional perspectives very limited. Many efforts have been already made but still there are more to be made to focus our attention on the specific needs and problems facing Roma children and not only, in order to improve their access to nine years’ compulsory education, their participation in various recreational, cultural, educational and other purposeful activities and generally their integration into social life. Moreover, there are a lot of immigrant families ‘without papers’ which confront many problems that have an influence on the socio-economic status of their members and particularly of their children. Especially in the European year against poverty and social exclusion (2010), Greece has to take further steps to ensure the sufficient support of the street children and unaccompanied minors outside their country of origin, in particular to increase the number of care places and trained professionals. The juvenile justice system in general suffers from the socio-economic crisis. For example, many state or governmental agencies in the field of the prevention of juvenile delinquency as the societies for the protection of minors still work (if they do so) with very limited personnel. It is the same for the juvenile probation office, the social service in prisons and the after-care governmental agency.

Q.- During the latest protests in Greece, what proportion of young people and minors have taken part in these riots? Have some minors been arrested and prosecuted?

A.– The number of minors and young people who participated in the riots has not been officially estimated, but a larger part of the participants in these protest actions everywhere in the country but mostly in Athens and other main cities of Greece was consisted of pupils (of lower and upper secondary education: gymnasium and lyceum) and university students. A number of minors were arrested, but not prosecuted. Regarding those who are prosecuted their criminal trial is still pending.

Q.- What changes have been introduced by the Law on the reform of juvenile criminal legislation (3189/2003)?

A.– The following important amendments inter alia were introduced:

  • - The age that a person is considered to have the capacity to commit offences and appear at the juvenile court was raised from seven to eight years; the minimum age of criminal responsibility was raised from twelve to thirteen years; and the age of full criminal responsibility was raised from seventeen to eighteen years. Minors are defined those persons who are between eight and eighteen years of age completed at the time of the commission of the offence.
  • - The list of the non-custodial educational (‘reformatory’) measures was substantially expanded. A wide variety of possible alternatives to institutional care and deprivation of liberty was introduced, like the placement of the minor under the responsible care of a foster family, mediation between the offender and the victim of the crime, compensation of the victim or in other ways restoration or elimination of the consequences caused by the act, community service, attendance of social or psychological support programmes in state, municipal, communal or private agencies, attendance of vocational or educational training programmes or traffic education programmes and the placement of the minor under the intensive care and supervision of the juvenile probation officers. In addition, the court decision specifies the maximum duration of the imposed educational measure, while a review by the court of its necessity must take place one year after such measure is imposed, at the latest.
  • - The victim’s interests were first taken into consideration through the introduction of the mediation between the minor offender and the victim for expression of apology and the extra-judicial settlement of the dispute, along with the compensation of the victim or in any other way restoration of the harm caused to the crime victim.
  • - Non-custodial therapeutic measures applicable to minors in need of particular treatment were first introduced, in particular the attendance of a counseling-therapeutic programme by the minor who is a drug-addict and cannot give up the drug-use by him/herself.
  • - The confinement for a relative indeterminate period in a correctional institution for juveniles is abolished and the confinement for a determinate period in a young offender institution is introduced. The court shall now precisely determine the duration of the detention in a young offender’s institution.
  • - The diversion at the prosecutorial stage was first introduced.
  • - Further duties and services were allocated to the personnel of the youth court probation service in order to achieve a more efficient care and supervision of minors in conflict with the law. Juvenile probation officers are now responsible, inter alia, for finding a foster family, carrying out mediation etc. They can further contribute to an effective implementation of diversion at the prosecutorial stage by making a social inquiry into the minor’s personality and the social surroundings who is alleged to have infringed the criminal law and by submitting a report to the prosecutor expressing their view on the case’s suitability and the appropriate non-custodial measure to be imposed, if this is considered as necessary.
  • - The juvenile’s legal position has been strengthened through the enlargement of the possibility to appeal against any sentence imposing detention in a young offenders’ institution, irrespectively of the duration of such detention. The right of appeal is no more restricted to sentences of juvenile detention of more than one year. However, the right of appeal was not extended to any decision imposing an educational or a therapeutic measure to the minor offender. A higher judicial body cannot review these decisions under the domestic law.

Q.- The reform of juvenile criminal legislation aimed to harmonize Greek and international law. Has the child’s legal position been reinforced by other legal instruments?

A.- In the beginning of the 21st century, the child’s general legal position has been reinforced in the Greek legal order: the National Observatory of Children’s Rights has been established, whose main mission is to monitor the compliance with, and promotion of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (s. Article 4 of the Act 2909/2001). In addition, Greece has ratified, by means of the Act 3080/2002, the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict’, and the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography’ by means of the Act 3625/2007. Moreover, the protection of victimized children has been enhanced through the Act 3064/2002 ‘on combating human trafficking, crimes against sexual self-determination, child pornography and in general financial exploitation of sexual life, and providing assistance to the victims of such acts’. The Act 3094/2003 has established the independent administrative authority of the ‘Children’s Ombudsman’, a department of the Greek Ombudsman whose regulatory mission is to protect and promote the rights of minors (Article 3 Sec. 1). The Act 3500/2006 ‘on combating domestic violence’ provides inter alia for the legal protection of children against acts of domestic violence committed in their presence and reforms some provisions on sexual abuse of minors (Chapter ‘offences against sexual self-determination’ of the Criminal Code). Lastly, the Act 3727/2008 ‘Ratification and implementation of the Convention of the Council of Europe for the protection of children against their sexual exploitation and abuse, measures for improving the living conditions and the decongestion of the penitentiary institutions’ reforms many articles of the Criminal Code, mainly those referring to sexual offences. Lastly, a bill on the “Units for the Care of Youngsters” (children at risk, juvenile offenders and victims) is pending since 1984. This draft law provides for diagnostic and therapy centres, open and half-open meeting centres and half-open units of social rehabilitation as educational measures.

Q.– What kind of diversion measures are foreseen within the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure?

A.– According to Article 45A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (‘Refrain from criminal prosecution of juveniles’) if a minor has committed a petty offence or a misdemeanor, the public prosecutor may refrain from criminal prosecution, if from the examination of the circumstances under which the act was committed and the entire personality of the minor the prosecutor is convinced that such prosecution is not necessary in order to prevent the minor from committing further criminal acts (diversion to nothing). Alternatively, the prosecutor can impose one or more of the non-custodial educational measures provided by law (s. Article 122 of the Criminal Code) or order the payment of an amount of money up to 1000 Euro to a community or other non-profit organisation by the minor (diversion with intervention). The interventions are listed in an exhaustive manner.

Q.– What are the differences between custodial educational treatment and custodial correctional treatment in Greece?

A.- Custodial educational treatment (‘Placement of the minor in an appropriate state, municipal, communal or private educational institution’) can be imposed by the juvenile court for criminal offences committed by persons aged 8 to 18. It is an educational measure and its imposition doesn’t presuppose the criminal responsibility of the offender. This means that even persons aged 8 to 13 years who are not at all criminally responsible for any act or omission they can be subjected to custodial educational treatment. Therefore, the relevant court judgement is deemed an acquittal. The juvenile court has to specify the maximum duration for the custodial educational treatment of each adjudicated minor. Latest one year after custodial educational treatment was imposed, a review by the court of its necessity must take place.

The juvenile court that orders custodial educational treatment may at any time replace it by a non-custodial educational measure when it considers this to be necessary, and the juvenile court revokes custodial educational treatment when its purpose has been fulfilled. The custodial educational treatment ordered by the juvenile court ends ipso jure as soon as the minor becomes 18. However, the juvenile court may order that the custodial educational treatment be continued, but not beyond the age of 21.

Custodial educational treatment does exist actually only for boys in state institutions, as municipal, communal or private educational establishments do no exist. The sole educational institution for girls in Athens run until 1997, when it was closed down due to the high cost of its running, the small numbers of inmates, and as a result of the philosophy of treating young offenders which favoured an out-of-detention-centre approach. Since 1997, only one educational institution runs in Greece, it is public and hosts per day not more than twenty male minors, mostly juveniles. The institution is run by the Ministry of Justice (and not the Ministry of Education) and its mandate is to ‘educate, socially support and provide vocational training and education’ of minor delinquents.

Additionally, custodial educational treatment can be imposed by the juvenile judge to a minor aged between seven and eighteen years old, against his/her will but with the parents’ consent, when he/she faces problems of social integration, meaning he/she lives with persons who commit criminal offences habitually or professionally (children at risk). The minor can be held into an educational institution only after his/her parents’ or guardians’ request or consent (in the case of such request was issued by a third person).

In contrast, custodial correctional treatment (juvenile detention or detention in a young offenders’ institution or ‘confinement in a special detention institution for young persons’) can be imposed only by the juvenile court (not the juvenile judge alone) for criminal offences committed by persons aged 13 to 18. It is a penalty and its imposition does presuppose the criminal responsibility of the perpetrator. Custodial correctional treatment can be imposed, when educational measures are deemed insufficient or have been proven as ineffective to prevent the juvenile from re-offending. The juvenile court has to specify a fixed period for the detention of each convicted juvenile. Such period ranging from 6 months to 20 years will depend on the penalty described for the same offence when committed by an adult. The custodial correctional treatment doesn’t end ipso jure like the custodial educational treatment. There are specific provisions for the early release for those convicted to juvenile detention. After the completion of the 21 or at latest 25 year of their age the young persons are tranferred to adult prisons and continue to serve their sentence there. During the period of 18 to 21 year of age they can be tranferred to adult prisons, if serious reasons dictate it.

Custodial correctional treatment can be executed only in state institutions. The law doesn’t provide for municipal, communal or private correctional establishments. With regard to criminal record there is a difference between custodial correctional treatment and the custodial educational treatment. Both are enrolled in the criminal record but the process of their deletion is different.

In practice, apart from the deprivation of liberty that the minor experiences in the institution for the custodial educational treatment, the regime in it is looser and has more educative character than in the institutions for custodial correctional treatment. The educational institution is functioning as a school; it has the nature of a closed centre of education. In recent years there is also a visible tendency to form the juvenile detention institutions as educational centres but the overcrowding is still an impediment to it, especially in the juvenile detention institution only for foreign offenders in central Greece (in the city of Volos).

Q.- Does the Greek legal order provide a specific correctional system for juveniles? Could you give us a brief description of the main provisions regarding juvenile justice issues?

A. - Even if there is no specific Correctional Code for the serving of the custodial sentence (‘confinement in a special detention institution for young persons’) the way that the correctional system faces juveniles and young adults is different than the way it faces adults. In particular, there are some special provisions in the Greek Penitentiary Code (Act 2721/1999) which apply to juveniles and young adults: In the youth detention centres shall be provided specialized programmes for education and vocational training.

When juvenile detainees are transferred, the use of handcuffs should, as far as possible, be avoided. The elementary (‘primary’) education is obligatory for young detainees. The granting of regular leave may be made conditional on the fact that, both when the juvenile prisoners leave and return to the institution, they are accompanied by their parents or a person entitled to exercise parental custody. The disciplinary sanctions are the same for juvenile and adult prisoners, but the severest disciplinary sanction, viz. solitary confinement for up to ten days, may only be imposed on juveniles where special circumstances arise. Young adult prisoners may be moved to adult prisons when there are important reasons for doing so.

Special provisions should have also been included in the Internal Operation Regulation of Special Detention Establishments for Young Prisoners (Ministerial Decision 62367/2005), apart from only few which concern their education, are identical with the provisions of the Internal Operational Regulation for the Establishments for Adults.

Q.- What are the conditions of the detention facilities for juveniles in Greece? Can you please give us some data regarding the number of children in custody? What about juveniles in pre-trial detention?

A.– There is a gap between the institutional framework and the real situation in the detention facilities for young detainees (i.e. persons between 13 and 21 years of age, juveniles and young adults). Juveniles (i.e. persons between 13 and 18 years) deprived of their liberty are held together with young adult prisoners. The conditions of living are problematic in these institutions (overcrowding, no separation detention of untried prisoners from convicted prisoners, lack of specialized personnel, like doctors, nurses etc.). The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has made some useful recommendations in its ad hoc visit (1999) at the Avlona Institution for Male Young Offenders like development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy to combat violence among detainees, improvement of organized activities (education, vocational training courses, work, sport, recreation, etc.), establishment of a specific register for the disciplinary unit, holding visits under more open conditions.

According to the penitentiary law, young prisoners live always separately from other adult detainees exclusively in specially constructed institutions or sections of adult prisons. There are three detention institutions for young male detainees in Greece: the institution of Avlona, the so-called rural institution of Kassaveteia near Volos, at which agricultural work is performed in the mornings by a group of young prisoners, and the institution for foreigners in the city of Volos. On the 1st of September 2009 the official capacity of the institution of Avlonas amounted to 308 places, while the total prison population was 335 detainees. The official capacity of the institution of Kassaveteia amounted about to 50 places, while the total prison population was 35 detainees and the official capacity of the institution in the city of Volos amounted to 65 places, while the total prison population was 133 detainees. Finally, there are small sections for young prisoners in some adult prisons. There were altogether 535 juveniles and young adults in detention on the 1st of September 2009 according to the data of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights. Only a small proportion of them were juveniles at the time of detention.

Since there are only a small number of young women who are convicted to detention in a young offenders’ institution, there are no separate institutions available for female young offenders. Young female offenders generally serve their sentence in the women’s institution for closed detention in Korydallos near Athens, and at the new women’s institution in Elaiona of Thiva and, less often, in a section for women of the institution for male prisoners in Thessaloniki.

Juvenile detention as pre-trial detention can only be imposed on a juvenile between 13 and 18 years of age. In particular, pre-trial detention can be imposed on a juvenile if the act he/she is charged for is punishable by the law with a sentence of at least 10 years of imprisonment. According to the Penitentiary Code the living conditions of pre-trial detainees shall approximate as closely as possible the living conditions in the community.

There are no exact data published regarding the number of juveniles in pre-trial detention.

Q.- A lot of forward steps have been taken in the area of juvenile detainees’ education, but how do you evaluate the correctional system?

A.– Apart from the steps that have already been made, there are still needs that have not been met. Specialized personnel, e.g. social workers, educators, vocational training teachers and psychologists, have to be strengthened in the facilities for young offenders. There are neither decentralized institutions for male young persons nor special institutions for girls and young women. Female juveniles are accommodated together with adult women prisoners. There are no individual cells where the young persons could spend the night. In the detention establishments for young prisoners there is not a separation between untried detainees and convicted prisoners. Open detention facilities for young inmates are not available. Furthermore, there are still provisions in the Penitentiary Law that have not been implemented, i.e. the provisions for the semi-open detention facilities.

Q. How have the educational and socio-reintegrational measures, provided for in Greek juvenile law, been implemented? Can you please give us some information about the situation of young adults?

A.– Mention should again be made of the fact that the Act 3189/2003 on the Reform of Juvenile Penal Legislation has been in force since 21 October 2003. The limited implementation of the recently introduced educational measures by the juvenile court or the juvenile prosecutor in the context of refraining from prosecution (mediation, community service) is due to a lack of appropriate infrastructure and resources. Social services for juvenile justice are under-equipped and the personnel is lacking adequate training.

Young prisoners in Greece seem to receive more attention than in the past in terms of education, since there are educational units of primary or lower and upper secondary education in every institution for young persons along with special educational programmes. Moreover, there are programmes covering vocational training, drugs’ detoxification consultancy and psychosocial support.

Young adults between 18 and 21 years are treated like adults, as far as their criminal responsibility is concerned. Regarding the criminal treatment of young offenders if, at the time of the commission of an offence, a person has completed his/her 18th year but not the 21st year of age, the court may impose a mitigated sentence according to the provisions of the article 83 of the Criminal Code. The young age of the defendant consists one of the mitigating factors that the court would take into consideration in order to choose the type and the duration of the sentence it would impose (discretionary power of the court). Consequently, young adults aged between 18 and 21 years, at the time the offence was committed, are subject to adult criminal law. However, the court is allowed discretion to impose a lenient sentence. There is thus no possibility of applying juvenile criminal law sanctions to young adults.

Q.- What resources are available for providing assistance to youths with psychological and mental-health needs in Greece (meaning both minors living with increased risk factors and actual offenders)? Are there officially any specific units for this target group?

A.– The resources available for youths with psychological and mental-health needs who additionally live with increased risk factors are the same as for the rest of the Greek population suffering from the same problems. Mental Health Centres or Units in other institutions like psychiatric hospitals are places where the juveniles (with their consent) receive care and therapy. There are no mental health institutions especially for young persons. In the therapeutic institution (‘Detainees Detoxification Centre for Drug Addicts) at Elaionas of Thiva only adult prisoners can be accepted. On the other side of the coin, in the psychiatric Unit of Korydallos both young and adult detainees can receive the treatment.

As regards juvenile offenders, non-custodial therapeutic measures, i.e. attendance of consulting therapeutic programmes, are provided for them, but these programmes are not offered in all centres of Mental Health or other appropriate institutions of the country. Especially for drug addicts there are units operating inside and outside of the prison system, offering consultancy or therapy to them. It must also be mentioned that until Act 3189/2003 came into force, the custodial therapeutic treatment provided by the law for this category of juvenile offenders are very rarely imposed by the juvenile courts, a fact that was most likely contingent on the lack of specific therapeutic institutions.


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