Hope for Freedom Can Change Criminals - Bulgarian Minister

Crime | May 3, 2011, Tuesday // 17:25|  views

Bulgarian prosecutors demand a life sentence without parole for the Australian citizen Jock Palfreeman, who has been found guilty of a 2007 murder in Sofia. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

A Bulgarian deputy justice minister has joined the chorus of voices, calling for the abolishment of the heaviest sentence in Bulgaria's Penal Code, life imprisonment without parole.

"The abolishment of the heaviest sentence – life jail without parole – will be the strongest possible incentive for the criminals to think over what they have done and how they have lived so far and decide they want to change," Daniela Masheva, deputy justice minister, argued.

According to her convicts consider life imprisonment without parole to be even crueler than the death sentence.

"The hope that one day he can go free can radically change the prisoner's views," she said, adding that lifetime jail will be here to stay as the heaviest penalty to be imposed on prisoners.

"Bulgaria is one of the few European Union member states, where this kind of punishement still exists," she said.

In her words prisoners are quite a costly burden on the back of Bulgaria's tax-payers as the expenses of each one of them run into BGN 1300 per month.

At the end of last month a proposal for the abolishment of life imprisonment without parole was tabled to parliament by socialist member of parliament Lyuben Kornezov.

"The criminal is a human being and nobody has the right to deprive him of hope. Hope is the last to die," argued Lyuben Kornezov and cited the example set by thirteen EU member states, which have no such penalty.

Currently judges in Bulgaria can deliver the harshest sentence for thirty serious and dangerous crimes - treason, espionage, sabotage, terrorism, murder, death accompanied by robbery, extortion and kidnapping, poisoning of drinking water, crimes, committed by military servicemen.

The penalty punishes people who have no chance to change, according to local legislation. It is forbidden to impose life sentence without parole on criminals under 20 and pregnant women.

Bulgaria introduced life imprisonment without parole in its Penal Code as "a temporary and exceptional measure" to replace the death sentence after it was repealed. Unlike life imprisonment where the convict can be freed after spending 30 years behind bars, here freedom is an option only if the president pardons the criminal.

"There has been no such case so far," says Kornezov.

The move comes three months after Bulgaria's justice ministry proposed similar amendments to the Penal Code and published them online on the site of the department.

Should the proposal be adopted, it means that the convicts, found guilty of the heaviest crimes, will have the chance to walk out of prison after serving twenty years and behave well.

In one of the most popular trials, Bulgarian prosecutors have demanded a life sentence without parole for the Australian citizen Jock Palfreeman.

Palfreeman was convicted in December 2009 of fatally stabbing one man and wounding another during a street brawl in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in 2007. He was sentenced to twenty years in jail.

Palfreeman, now 24, from Sydney, has pleaded not guilty, claiming he acted in self-defence after intervening to prevent an attack on a group of Roma, or gypsies.

He has been in custody since the December 2007 incident.

Bulgarian prosecutors, who asked for life imprisonment, claim Palfreeman was not provoked and did not act in self defence.

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