More than 4,000 convicted criminals are on a waiting list to serve time in Serbia's severely overcrowded prisons. Meanwhile, as they bide their time, a controversial new law gives amnesty to prisoners already serving a sentence.
Civil rights groups have long bemoaned the serious state of overcrowding in Serbia's 26 prisons. Reports of conditions in some prisons are categorized as an abuse of human rights amounting to torture. So acute is the problem that convicted criminals have to join a long waiting list before they can even be admitted to serve their time.
The Set Times reports there are currently 11,500 inmates in Serbian prisons which are designed to hold 7,000 inmates. A further 4,000 can't even get a place. They report Aleksandar B., who is currently on the waiting list, said: "I wish I could be done with this as soon as possible. I want to serve this sentence and go back to my life again." Under the terms of the recent amnesty law he has already had his sentence reduced by half before he even joins the prison population.
The Serbian Parliament approved the controversial amnesty law on Nov. 8. Balkan Insight reported the aim of the law was to reduce the prison population, at the same time saving the state 127 million dinars. The Serbian opposition objected to the amnesty law on the grounds "some notorious criminals would be released."
Those serving time for organized crime will not be eligible for early release but murderers will have their sentences reduced by 10 percent. The majority of prisoners that will benefit from the amnesty are those sentenced to short spells in jail.
Serbia is not the only Balkan country with a waiting list to enter prison. Almost 1,000 criminals in Bosnia and Herzegovina are also hoping to gain a prison place soon.