New criminal code spells freedom for over 1,500 prisoners

New Year’s Day will be a real red letter day for many prisoners in the Czech Republic. Under a new criminal code being introduced on January 1 some crimes are being reclassified as misdemeanours – meaning those who are currently in jail on such charges will either be released or have their sentences reduced.

A new criminal code that comes into force in the New Year spells very good news indeed for thousands of people currently behind bars in the Czech Republic. The fresh compilation of laws regarding criminal offences no longer includes activities such as driving without a licence or some forms of poaching. This means those given jail terms for these and other breaches now reclassified as mere misdemeanours will be freed.

Jitka Zinke is a spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Justice.

“Right now the courts and the prison service are going through lists of those who are affected by this change. We expect that by January 1 everything will be prepared to allow them to be released from jail. They won’t have to apply for it, it will be automatic, and it concerns 1,600 people. As for people convicted on multiple charges, if some of those charges are no longer crimes, then the courts will decide on whether to reduce their jail terms.”

There have been suggestions that Czech courts, which often have long backlogs of cases, will be hard pressed to cope with even more work.

“The Czech courts have been preparing for the introduction of this new criminal code for some time, so they’re now working on making sure everything is ready for the start of next year. But, yes, it does mean an increase in workload for the courts, and they do have a lot of work already.”

Jitka Zinke also says newspaper headlines calling the planned releases an unofficial amnesty are somewhat misleading. But that certainly won’t bother the hundreds of people who will walk free from jails around the Czech Republic in just over two weeks’ time.