Prisoner re-offends on licence

A CONVICTED felon participated in a series of brutal attacks on female university students, while he was released from jail on licence. The victims, all targeted in broad daylight, were abducted, robbed and raped. Police have now arrested several men in connection with the crimes that took place in isolated car parks after students left classes at Lisbon University.

The attackers, all aged between 20 and 24, dragged students into their car and drove them to ATM machines, where they were forced to make the highest withdrawal possible. Then, they were taken to a house in Pontinha, where they were raped before being abandoned.

Six victims, all women aged between 21 and 22, have so far come forward with accounts of abduction, but the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) concede there are more cases pending. Three of the six students were able to flee the gang, one escaping beforehand and two after they had been forced into the car. Gang members threatened two students with knives and another with a pistol.

The case history of one of the attackers, the oldest member of the group, is particularly disturbing. He was an inmate of Leiria prison, nearing the end of an eight-year sentence for abduction, rape and robbery, the same crimes on which he is now indicted once again. From 2003 onwards, he was released from jail at least three times on licence.

State could be sued

Lawyer António Marinho considers that victims of violent crimes perpetrated during prison leave could be entitled to sue the state. “If it can be proven that they (the criminals) return to the same crime, which in my opinion is difficult to demonstrate, then an action against the state could be successful,” he maintains.

Marinho says that victims could also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but adds a qualification: “There has to have been a serious mistake on the part of the courts that violates the European Convention.” He observes that it would be “complicated” for the state to be held liable, but acknowledges that the state should be forced to monitor so-called “addicted” career criminals.

Cases of recidivism on temporary release are well documented throughout Europe, not just in Portugal. “These are things that the Penal Code alone cannot resolve,” says Marinho. “Even the most violent criminals can behave impeccably in jail, hoping to be granted early release on licence”.

A recent case of a convict re-offending while released on licence is that of Luís Santos. Released last Christmas, he never returned to jail and remains the chief suspect in the murder of policeman, Ireneu Diniz, who was gunned down in February in Cova da Moura, Amadora.

Another is that of Américo Piçarreira, captured on January 24 last in Abrantes. He should have returned to jail on December 27. Instead, on the very same day, he stabbed the owner of a house he was trying to burgle.

Judge Batista Coelho says the law needs revision: “The law allows for early releases, but makes no distinction between the seriousness of crimes. At a determined point in the sentence, if the convict shows conduct that does not point to ongoing criminality, then he can either be conditionally released or released on licence. Only the political establishment has the power to amend this situation.”

Lawyer Calisto De Melo agrees that the system should be examined: “The rehabilitation of the prisoner is a very important aspect in these cases. But, I find it repugnant that there are individuals condemned for crimes such as rape, who then re-enter society before they have completed their time in jail. For the benefit of society, these criminals should be forced to complete the rest of their sentences.”G.H.