A bill eagerly anticipated by thousands of convicts and expected to reduce the coronavirus risk in prisons has inched ever closer to approval. The bill, drafted by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, will likely be passed by Parliament next week.
The bill will cover about 100,000 people in prison for all crimes except terrorism, organized crime and manslaughter. The AK Party is in the midst of talks with opposition parties to conclude the final touches of the bill.
The new legislation will amend 10 articles of the Turkish Penal Code, allowing for those sentenced to up to 10 years in prison to be eligible for parole in five years, rather than the existing six and a half years. Sentences will also be reduced for repeat offenders. The bill, however, also amends the controversial practice of release with judiciary control. Those convicted of any crime eligible for release with judiciary control will have to have served at least 40% of their term in prison. Meanwhile, the period of judiciary control, currently one year, will be increased to three years. Those serving for serious charges, such as terrorism, homicide, sex crimes and violation of privacy, will remain exempt from the right to release on judiciary control. Female convicts with young children and those above the age of 70 will have the right to extended periods of judiciary control, in a bid to spare them from spending time in prison.
Furthermore, convicts above the age of 65 and those with chronic diseases will be released with judiciary control, while convicts not sent to prison yet and those who gave birth before their conviction will have their sentences suspended for one and a half year instead of one year. Women convicts with newborn children who have been sentenced to three years or less will be allowed to serve the remainder of their term under house arrest. The bill also brings about a reduction in sentences of underage convicts.
Convicts sentenced to more than 10 years in prison will be allowed to be transferred to minimum-security prisons if judges approve and in cases of good conduct or eligibility for parole.
Turkey’s prison population is around 300,000 and the government strives to prevent crowding in prisons, a major risk at the time of the coronavirus outbreak. Naci Bostancı, parliamentary group chairman for AK Party, says the bill is not “an amnesty." "They will still serve their terms. The bill aims for the rehabilitation of convicts,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Wednesday. “It concerns the execution of the sentences, not their length. This is not a political matter. We have negotiated it with other parties and we are sensitive about its extent, especially in terms of crimes involving terrorism and violence,” he said, reminding members of the press that the bill was still in the draft phase and could change substantially.
“People will be punished if they commit a crime, but we have to look it from the aspect of rehabilitation and how such sentences will impact their lives in the long term,” he said.