THE JUSTICE Ministry says it will eliminate much of the violent crime in the country by adopting a so-called "three strikes and you're out" measure, under which repeat offenders would get a life sentence without parole.
Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, of the ruling Christian Democrats (KDH), has long called for an uncompromising stance to be taken against repeat offenders. The three strikes system, used in about 30 US states, has now become part of the new cabinet's programme and has the support of all coalition members, claimed Interior Minister Vladimír Palko.
Lipšic said that experience in other countries has shown that 6 per cent of the most aggressive offenders committed about three quarters of all violent crimes. He claims that if the three strikes measure is approved, citizens will be able to enjoy a safer Slovakia, which is a vital part of the party's agenda.
Some representatives of the country's 18 prisons have warned, however, that the existing facilities would be insufficient to house an increased number of convicts.
"I don't agree with the three strikes measure," said Anton Fábry, head of the country's prisons and judicial wardens' staff. "Estimating that it would apply to about 1,200 criminals, we would need to build two more prisons to house the extra convicts, and I don't think we have the money for that."
But Lipšic says those estimates are dramatically inflated. Government figures show that the country's 18 jails and other penitentiary facilities can house over 9,000 convicts, while around 7,500 offenders are currently behind bars. The state spends about Sk300,000 ($7,000) on each convict per year.
"It will certainly mean an increase in the number of convicts, but it definitely won't be a dramatic increase," Lipšic said, estimating that the measure would apply to around 300 criminals today.
He insisted that the final effects of the three strikes measure would be worth the necessary investments.
"If those 300 repeat offenders are not freed from jail, there will be a considerable decrease in the number of violent crimes," said Lipšic.
Nevertheless, prisons officials as well as some lawyers have doubted the effectiveness of the measure in general.
"It's nonsense. To fight crime by maximising the penalties never brought any results," said Banská Bystrica lawyer Ján Gereg.
According to research by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, while the overall number of crimes committed in Slovakia fell from more than 146,000 in 1993 to less than 89,000 in 2000, violent crimes were up almost 50 per cent over the same period to 13,459.
Interior Minister Palko, who in March this year failed to gain sufficient support in the legislature for the three strikes measure, backed Lipšic.
The majority of the offenders who would be subject to the three strikes measure, Palko said, "are in jail at the moment, or have been in jail for most of their criminal careers".
The measure would eliminate the "breaks" between convicts' repeated sentences, which the criminals usually use for "committing more crimes", he said.
In addition, the number of crimes committed would be further cut because "potential offenders would realize the risks they are facing [by committing violent crime]," Palko said.
It is not yet clear whether the proposal will find enough support when it is sent to the legislature, although the ruling coalition has a slight majority in parliament, with 78 of the total 150 MPs, which should secure its passage.
Robert Fico, head of the second-biggest opposition party, Smer, has called the measure populist, but detractors are likely to be outnumbered by supporters of the measure. Former interior minister Ladislav Pitner of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union said he thought the three strikes measure was a good idea.
"Because we are against the death sentence, I think we could limit repeat criminals in their activities through measures such as this one," Pitner said.