Roughly sixty prison sentences have expired over the past three years owing to shortage of prison cells, RÚV reports. At a session before Parliament yesterday, members of the opposition expressed concern over the state of the country’s prison system.
Deterrance rendered ineffective
Yesterday, Helga Vala Helgadóttir, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, opened the discussion on prison affairs before Parliament. Roughly 300 people, of which 279 men, are on prison wait lists. According to Helga Vala, the state of affairs is unacceptable, both for victims and perpetrators:
“The aim of legislation on the enforcement of sentences is that sentences be served safely and efficiently in order to deter, whether by particular or general means, criminal offences; however, such a thing can hardly be effective when prisoners cannot begin serving their sentences and when victims must watch perpetrators walk the streets as if they had done nothing wrong. Furthermore, convicted individuals cannot begin to rebuild their lives or must simply trust that their prison sentences expire so that they don’t need to serve time. These are terrible messages to send to society,” Helga Vala stated.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Chair of the Centre Party, echoed Helga’s sentiments:
“Although we sometimes use the phrase human-rights violation rather freely, I would categorise it in these terms: that someone has been sentenced – with all the subsequent consequences on the individual – but must wait in uncertainty as to when that sentence begins,” Sigmundur remarked.
Sixty-four prison sentences expired since beginning of 2020
As noted by RÚV, since the start of 2020, 64 prison sentences have expired owing to a shortage of cell space. The COVID pandemic played a significant role but also a lack of government funding. The prison system will receive an increase of ISK 250 million ($1.8 million / €1.7 million) according to a bill to amend next year’s budget as proposed by the Minister of Finance.
Just Minister Jón Gunnar states that this will completely alter the state of affairs:
“One must also consider what the prison authorities are dealing with, namely longer sentences, a greater number of sentences, and a significant increase in the number of individuals being kept in police custody, which wasn’t entirely expected, and which has served to complicate matters. A working group was appointed to review operations and to offer proposals on how to shorten waiting lists. They’re working on it, and once that work is finished, we’ll have a foundation from which to increase the budget and the number of prison guards, and also to operate our prisons more efficiently. This will, of course, be of great help,” Jón stated.