On April 27, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine introduced for parliamentary consideration draft law No. 3397 "On amnesty for convicts (in connection with the prevention of the spread of acute respiratory disease Covid-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus)."
We should note that the document has not yet been considered, but it can be predicted with 99% certainty that it would be accepted soon.
If this happens this time, 3009 people will go free, which approximately corresponds to a tenth of all prisoners. Persons, who were minors at the time of committing the crime would be among the lucky ones. Or those pregnant at the time the law enters into force (if we are talking about women). Or those who have disabilities, AIDS, and cancer. Or those who have reached retirement age. The amnesty also covers combatants, Chornobyl liquidators, and persons with parents over 70 and/or minor children. Amnesty does not affect those convicted of serious crimes.
Liberty or death
And now let’s speak more about the motives of the authorities. Although the Ministry of Justice reports on a number of anti-epidemic measures (restricting access to unauthorized persons to the jails, constant temperature screening, and monitoring the physical condition of prisoners), such control is useless. Former chairman of the State Penitentiary Service Serhiy Starenky said it in an interview with the Ukrinform news agency.
The first thing that Starenky draws attention to is the unsanitary conditions of places of imprisonment. “There is no proper cleaning, ventilation, sewage. This is a klondike for viruses, they can spread quite quickly.”
There is no algorithm of action if the colony is embraced by an epidemic. There is no way to treat prisoners on the spot. And this means that they must be put to the medical institutions. But for this, we need both appropriate transport and a convoy. And Ukraine would definitely suffer from their lack.
Actually, Starenky believes that that the idea of the authorities to give amnesty is quite late. And even if bill No. 3397 is adopted soon, time will still be missed in vain. In the meantime, all prisoners will be kept together. Indeed, although Minister of Justice Denys Malyuka might think that prisons in Ukraine are “empty”, and therefore they (with the exception of two in all of Ukraine) must either be closed or sold, in reality, this is not so. Because places of deprivation of liberty are quite crowded.
In a word, the verdict of people who are versed in this area is unequivocal: the release of minor criminals is necessary.
Italian riots in the Ukrainian context
But, perhaps, the imperious team would not have gone for the early release of prisoners, if not for foreign experience. Our president, as you might know, loves making cosplay from world leaders. In particular, Zelensky is impressed by the image of his French colleague Macron.
Since mid-March, in France, more than 6,000 people were released from prisons ahead of schedule. But with regard to the United States most affected by the virus, there, according to US Attorney General William Barr on April 3, some of the convicts from correctional colonies have now been transferred to house arrest.
A thousand prisoners in the most densely populated region of Germany - North Rhine-Westphalia – was released. And such measures are not exclusively European. For example, the central authority of India in March called on all states to inspect prisons and determine the contingent of prisoners who can be released on parole. The UN, in turn, recommended that states take such a step to prevent death among staff and prisoners sentenced to prison terms.
Many listened to this appeal, but, for example, Italy almost made a fatal mistake. This country is known to be the most affected by the coronavirus among European neighbors. At a certain stage, the authorities decided to resort to preventive steps and prohibit the prisoners from the meeting. This decision caused only prison riots, while about 6,000 people were drawn into clashes with the personnel of the colonies. And 16 prisoners even managed to escape due to riots.
Ukraine decided not to take a risk and to transfer them from the "real" mode to online mode. For this, prisoners, as an exception, were even allowed to use the Internet. However, this permission alone is not very valuable. In the budget of the colonies, no one laid and does not lay the appropriate equipment. And since it is forbidden for individuals serving sentences to have individual gadgets, it is not clear how they will get out of this situation.
But the issue here is that people are released without an amnesty. More precisely, criminals are released, and not only those who committed a minor crime. We owe this to the so-called "Savchenko’s law", adopted in 2015 and repealed in 2017. Despite the fact that the law is repealed, it continues to operate.
The essence of this law is simple: Nadia Savchenko's associates, while she was still in a Russian prison, registered a legislative initiative on her behalf, according to which one day in the previous conclusion should count for two. After sentencing, this significantly reduced the time for convicted persons. Because under Ukrainian law, stay in a pre-trial detention center is included in the sentence.
Now the court has taken a break in considering the cassation of, perhaps, the most famous killer in Ukraine - former Lieutenant General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Oleksiy Pukach. The one who was found guilty of the death of journalist Georgy Gongadze. Pukach seeks to replace his life sentence with a 15-year term, as well as to apply the Savchenko Law to him. If the court gives the go-ahead for this, the criminal can be released already this year - just on the 20th anniversary of the Gongadze murder.
But if Pukach is only waiting for a decision, then former Interior Ministry official Oleksandr Balakirev, convicted in 2019 for the murder of a 2-year-old child of his cohabitant, is already freed. When considering the Balakirev case, it was said that he probably raped the boy, and the baby died from his injuries. The evidence of rape was not provided, but there was evidence of beating the child. The crime was qualified under Article 121 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Intentional grievous bodily harm resulting in the death of the victim"). According to this article, Balakirev received ten years in prison.
However, by a decision of the court of appeal, the period of his pre-trial detention from May 18, 2016, to October 21, 2019, was counted as a day in two under the “Savchenko’s Law.” As a result, by the end of the fall, he served more than 2/3 of the appointed term and was released on parole at the request of a lawyer. Already in February, Balakirev disappeared, and law enforcement officers did not know his place of residence.
Despite the fact that the Savchenko’s law was repealed almost three years ago, its provisions are in force by virtue of Article 58 of the Constitution. This article declares that the law is not retroactive, unless they mitigate or cancel the liability of a person.
This means that the law continues to apply to all persons taken into custody prior to its cancellation, that is, until June 20, 2017. Among them, as we see, there are all categories of criminals, including murderers and rapists.