BEIRUT: Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said Thursday the number of inmates who would benefit from the recently approved law to shorten the prison year is 80, adding that the pace of trials has improved.
“The number of prisoners who benefit from the reduction does not exceed 80 in the year 2012,” Qortbawi told reporters during his ministry's inaugural screening of an electronic version of court schedules in Beirut.
“The goal of the reduction was not to empty the prisons as much as it was part of a modern policy of punishment that rehabilitates the person," he said, adding that the policy is in force in many countries.
Parliament passed Wednesday a long-awaited draft law to reduce the prison year from 12 to nine months. Inmates sentenced to life in prison or to death, along with those convicted of repeating the same crime, are excluded from the law.
As for inmates sentenced to less than one year, each month will be counted as 20 days.
The approval of the law was part of the government’s plan to reform prisons in the country following last year’s riot at Roumieh prison, which resulted in the death of four inmates and the injuring of several.
The inmates were protesting deteriorating prison conditions and asking the government for a general amnesty or speedy trials.
Qortabwi also said that courts have sped up the trials for several prisoners in order to lessen the problem of overpopulation in prisons.
He said that that the percentage of prisoners who are detainees yet to be tried was 63 in 2010 while the number of those who received a sentence was 37 percent. In 2011, detainees constituted 58 percent of prisoners while convicts comprised 42 percent.
But holding detainees and others on remand, the prison still lacks the minimum requirements to meet United Nations standards.
The 2011 Interior Ministry statistics showed that Roumieh, originally built to house 1,500 people, has 3,700 inmates. Of these, only 721 are serving sentences, with the rest are awaiting trial.
During his talk with reporters, Qortbawi also commented on the decisions by both the Tripoli and Beirut’s Lawyers Syndicates to hold a strike over the delay in appointing the head of the High Disciplinary Council, saying that he understood the consequences of such a delay.
“I understand [the position] of the heads of lawyers' syndicates in Beirut and Tripoli and I understand the fear lawyers have in terms of the delay in resolving this issue, which should not be prolonged,” the minister said.