Latvia to free prisoners under European Union pressure

  • 2002-10-24

Latvian justice officials said they planned to release 91 prisoners who have been jailed for extended periods in preventive detention in order to meet concerns expressed by the European Union about such practices.

The inmates will be those the courts will not have time to sentence before a new law limiting the time courts have to deal with the cases comes into force.

Justice Ministry spokesman Leonards Pavils said Oct. 17 those to be released on Nov. 1 "are not killers."

"Half of them are accused of drug-related crimes, others of assault, handling stolen goods and hooliganism," he said.

The EU executive strongly criticized the limited progress Latvia had made in reforming its justice system, particularly in regard to juvenile inmates, in a report released earlier this month on the country's readiness to join the bloc.

Latvia has the 17th highest per capita prison population in the world.

It also has a higher proportion of inmates on remand than any other candidate for European Union membership or than neighbors such as Russia and Belarus, Vitolds Zahars, director general of Latvia's Prison Administration, said.