The island’s only prison, with inmates during the last few decades including notorious murderers, corrupt public officials and international terrorists, will feature in a series that will air on the popular streaming service Netflix.
One of the episodes in the documentary series on correctional facilities around the world that will premier on Wednesday, September 28, will focus on a radical reform approach applied at Nicosia Central Prisons.
In the documentary, the Nicosia prison’s regime will be compared to other prisons around the world where conditions are harsher, with the documentary focussing on a U-turn in the facility’s approach prompted by Governor Anna Aristotelous.
“It once had a fierce reputation for guard brutality. But a now a charismatic new director has taken over, claiming that she has transformed this controversial prison,” series presenter Raphael Rowe is quoted in the official trailer of the episode.
Netflix has also shot episodes in prisons in Norway where they follow a similar philosophy as the Cypriot model while scenes have already been shot from punitive prisons in other countries.
In the trailer, inmates tell Netflix that they were subjected to beatings and isolation for the slightest offense. “The slightest thing could get us thrown into isolation and beaten,” one inmate said on camera.
A guard added that “prisoners were beaten daily”.
Despite being described as more humane than others, the prisons’ track record was far from impeccable.
In 2015, Cyprus ranked first among European countries for suicide rates in prison.
According to a Council of Europe report, Cyprus had the highest suicide rate among 50 European countries.
The highest suicide rates per 10,000 prisoners in 2014 were recorded in Cyprus, with 44.1, which was more than double that of Norway, in second place, which recorded 16.1.
The Europe-wide average was 7.2.
Cyprus prisons did not record any suicides in 2016 and 2017 and just one in 2018 and another in 2019.
Conditions at the central prisons have improved in recent years after a series of reforms and refurbishments.
The prisons administration, under Aristotelous who took over in 2015, adopted new practices and alternative penalties, especially for those sentenced for up to two years in jail.
As reported, training programmes have been enriched, as were other actions that are beneficial to the system and the inmates, resulting in a reduction in repeat offenders after release.
Nicosia’s central prisons is a complex consisting of a men’s and women’s wing, along with an open prison, similar to a half-way house for non-violent offenders and those close to completing their sentence.
In the trailer, inmates are seen chanting Aristotelous’ name, calling her “Anna, the Queen of the Prisons”.
Her time as prison governor has been marked by her recent allegation that a top cop had colluded with an inmate currently serving a long sentence for drug trafficking, to deliver a blow to her career.
Aristotelous claimed that she had been targeted by a senior police officer who conspired with an inmate to obtain video footage involving her and another female staff member.
The accusations led to the suspension of the head of the anti-drug squad, Michalis Katsounotos, who was later moved to the Coast Guard.
The Netflix series on the life of inmates, “Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons” is presented by wrongfully convicted Rowe, who was locked up for a week in Nicosia Central Prisons.
Rowe, who goes around the world to be locked up with convicts, spent 12 years in a UK prison for a murder, as proven later, he did not commit.