NICOSIA – The chief of Cyprus’ central prison complex resigned on Jan. 14 following a spate of inmate suicides that has refocused attention on conditions inside the country’s lone correctional facility.
Senior police officer George Tryphonides told The Associated Press that Jan. 14 would be his last day after five years as acting prisons director.
Five inmates have committed suicide since July. But calls for immediate action reached fever pitch Tuesday when another inmate took his own life — the third suicide in 17 days.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou on Jan. 13 announced a string of measures, including Tryphonides’ return to his police duties as chief superintendent, prison guard suspensions, elite police unit patrols inside the facility and setting up a wing for inmates diagnosed with psychological problems.
Nicolaou told lawmakers a day earlier that there were 50 suicide attempts by inmates last year, compared with 35 the previous year and 20 in 2011.
Compounding concern over the suicides was the alleged gang rape of a 23-year-old Romanian inmate over the weekend that prompted an angry warning by President Nicos Anastasiades of “zero tolerance” for prison staff and police who fail in their job or are implicated in wrongdoing.
Tryphonides defended his record, saying he has helped reduce the chronically overcrowded facility’s population from 720 inmates a year ago — some 270 above capacity — to 560 now.
He said prison staff isn’t to blame for the facility’s shortcomings that have accumulated over decades and which remained largely ignored by successive governments.
Tryphonides said the debt-wracked country’s economic woes have scuttled plans for additional renovations to the facility that would have further improved conditions.
Cyprus has slashed spending to meet the tough terms of a financial rescue it received last year from other euro area countries and the International Monetary Fund.