Greece’s biggest prison is boiling

The country’s health system is collapsing. Nowhere is this more obvious than inside its prisons. 

In the wake of the greatest financial catastrophe in the country’s history, the marks of austerity and “fiscal adjustment” on Greece’s infrastructure are becoming increasingly visible. The combination of belt-tightening and a changing attitude towards the role of the state promoted by the current coalition government, is turning Greece into a very different country from its former self. While the welfare state is being torn down, reactionary politics are the norm and divisive rhetoric is the only game in town. With the exception of the police and the army, whose funding is still high and expanding, the country’s infrastructure is left to ruin.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the crumbling healthcare system. The cuts following Greece’s agreed bailout packages after 2009, reduced the budget available to public hospitals by 25% in the first two years alone. Hospitals are now permanently understaffed, few and far in-between as they already were outside the capital, and often left without basic supplies like plasters and syringes.

Greek doctors on strike

Patients have to pay out of their own pocket for costly treatments like cancer and HIV, as public spending on pharmaceuticals was cut by 50%. Somewhere between criminal and delusional, the current minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis (previously a TV salesman) sums up this transitional period: “illnesses like cancer are not considered urgent, unless in final stages” he told the Washington Post.

The result is a torrent of cases in which patients with serious illnesses are left untreated, essentially transferring even greater costs of caring for them in the future. Nowhere is this abandonment more prevalent than in the country’s crowded and inhumane prison system. A little more than a week ago, details of a true tragedy emerged. Photos taken with a mobile phone inside Greece’s biggest prison, show more than 170 patients pilled up in small rooms, sleeping on the floors, with minimal treatment.

Photo from inside the prison’s hospital, via @kolastirio

People suffering from HIV, tuberculosis, psoriasis, cancer and other serious diseases, are discarded like trash in common rooms where hygiene is an unknown term. Spaces designed to hold 60 people, now hold more than 200. Reports say that some of these diseases have already started spreading amongst the inmates, making the prison a threat to public health in the general area. As inmates report, when the staff realises someone is close to death, he is quickly transported to a hospital, so his death won’t be recorded in the prison’s logs.

Photos from inside the prison’s hospital, via @kolastirio

A hunger strike that involves more than 200 inmates is currently underway. The patients also refuse to take their medication. Their demand, simple: “Treat us like human beings”. Predictably, their pleas fall on deaf ears. The public prosecutor that visited the hospital wing of Korydalos where the strike is taking place, refused to enter the chambers and inspect the conditions under which these people are kept. She said “I have a family”. The state opted to prosecute the inmates that published the photos instead.

“If you want to know the truth of a society, look at how it treats its prisoners”, the saying goes. In a country where more than one million people are now without access to healthcare (as reported in the respected medical Journal “Lancet” in February) that inmates are simply abandoned is not exactly surprising. One of the inmates, speaking to Unfollow magazine said that the prison’s staff is on their side, but their complaints are also supressed, some of them even taken through disciplinary boards by the ministry, in order to stop them from leaking any further info.

Photos from inside the prison’s hospital, via @kolastirio

The situation is desperate. On the 28th of February, one of the inmates tried to kill himself. Staff and other inmates found him hanged in the toilets of the hospital wing. He was revived and rushed off to the hospital. His whereabouts and current status are unknown. Speaking to Avgi newspaper today, an HIV positive inmate questions the governments decision to detain the Golden Dawn leadership in an empty wing meant for them. “They said they’ll transfer us in 2 or 3 months. But their calendar is not the same as ours. We’ve stopped eating, the only people who eat are those in danger of manifesting AIDS, and only those with psychological conditions take their medicines for obvious reasons”. He continued “What is happening here, is a mirror for what’s happening all over Greece. The government is willingly deaf and blind, and presents a rosy image of everything. The reality is far from that though”.

Unfortunately, with these in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that the New Democracy-PASOK coalition has opted to send thousands of people to their death, with the EU’s tacit approval. What remains to be seen, is for how long these issues can be kept under wraps, while a country is slowly dying in an overcrowded hospital chamber.

UPDATE: The prisoner who published the photos and was subsequently prosecuted is to appear in court today.

UPDATE 2: France 24 has a video from inside the prison and an interview with the Greek minister of Justice
A video from inside the prison.