EU supports probation reform in Ukraine

Imprisonment is a very expensive way to make bad people even worse, European experts say. The system of probation, which has been in operation in Ukraine for two years with the support of the EU Pravo-Justice project is aimed at cutting short the number of prisons, along with increasing security in the society.

In June 2016, Levan Mosidze was sentenced to two years’ probation period for stealing from private homes. He was let down by his crime partner who left the place. Levan had to decide: try to escape or surrender to the police. The guy chose the second way and does not regret.

Levan was the only child in a decent family of Georgian emigrants without financial problems. The boy had an opportunity to study political science at a pedagogical university.

To pay for studies, he started working when he was 15. He worked as security guard in shops, as fitness trainer, had his YouTube blog. However, Levan has never graduated from the university.

“I just never knew who I want to be. But I did not want to work for just a penny,” he explains.

Levan wanted “quick” money and could not find work on the labour market unfavourable for students. In that regard, his story is not outstanding. Problems with employment are the main reason for the fact that Ukrainians attempt illegal ways of earning money.

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However, Levan was lucky. At the moment of his proceedings in June 2016, a probation system was already in place in Ukraine, so the boy escaped the prison. Instead, he became registered with the State Probation Centre and since then he has reported on his activities on a monthly basis and has regularly visited a psychologist.

In 2017, 11 000 convicts were the same lucky, and in 2018 – more than 20 000.

What is probation?

The term “probation” originates from English and means “testing”. This is an alternative to imprisonment for lawbreakers who committed minor or moderate crimes – for example, financial fraud, car theft or hooliganism. They are not put in jail, but instead they can correct their behaviour being at liberty.

Probation deals also with reintegration of former prisoners into society.

In Ukraine, probation is applied since January 2017, when all units of the former State Criminal Enforcement Service were reformed into the Probation Centre units.

Also, shutdown of some correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centres (PTDC) has been started then. Prisoners from the least-crowded facilities were transferred to other facilities.

Conservation is needed, as most Ukrainian correctional facilities are not filled even by 50%. For example, there is a prison with 35 prisoners in Zaporizka oblast, although the facility is designed for 800 people and staffed with 135 people.

There are about 180 correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centres in Ukraine. 13 facilities, which are filled the least, have already been shutdown allowing to save 70 million hryvnia in two years.

Positive sides of probation

Taxpayers’ money are saved, which is one of major benefits of the reform.

“Prison is a very expensive way of making bad people even worse,” says Randall Barrows, a probation expert of the European Union’s Project “Justice”.

Ukraine spends up to 53 thousand hryvnias per prisoner per year. According to the Department of Probation of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the new system is 10 times cheaper.

Secondly, probation system is more humane, it does not separate a person from family and society, allows keeping the workplace.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the total number of imprisoned people in Ukraine is 57 thousand persons (about 0.17% of the total population). Among all prisoners, only 1.5 thousand serve the life sentence. The rest will leave correctional facilities and return to society, having lost social skills and connections.

In addition, Ukrainian prisons are known for their terrible conditions. For example, in this year’s report of the Council of European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the conditions of Kyiv PTDC have been called “inhuman” and “humiliating”.

Therefore, probation does not just allow the convict reintegrating into the society, but, we can say, rescues from inhuman conditions of existence.

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Conditions in Lukyanivske PDTC

In the end, probation allows to “recover damages” in some degree, in the form of socially useful works.

This might be the streets-cleaning, landscaping of cities, grass-cutting, painting, cleaning fences and buildings, including removing announcements, advertisements, graffiti, etc.

1240 persons started to perform such tasks alone in 2018. The Ministry of Justice has introduced this instrument in February 2018, in particular with regard to neglected alimony payments.

Of course, it is quite difficult to assess the results of such large-scale reforms. A unified state register of convicts has not been set up yet. It would allow calculating the percent of persons who have passed the probation and subsequently recommitted an offense.

However, the “first birds” of positive changes can be observed now. According to the Department of Probation, among teenagers who were on probation, the percentage of repeated offence is incredibly low – 1.5% only.

Forecast of the lawbreaker’s behaviour

The tendency of the repeated offence may be determined in advance by applying the risks assessment methodology developed within the EU-based “Law-Justice” project involving international experience.

This technique involves collecting all information about the person who committed the crime and the circumstances in which it occurred. All the factors contributing to such actions are also considered: from the financial situation, alcohol or drug addiction and psychological problems of the offender to the problems in the family.

Such assessment is carried out during the pre-trial probation, that is before sentencing, and in supervisory probation persons sentenced to punishment without imprisonment are assessed.

Employees of district probation units conduct in-depth interviews with the lawbreaker, his/her relatives, acquaintances and colleagues. This allows assessing the attitude of a person to own behaviour, the probability of repetitions, the degree of danger for the society, as well as planning further steps concerning this person.

Human resources is the key

The EU project is also aimed at training and upgrading probation officers.

Training of a probation officer lasts for 7 years. First, there is a 4-years study at the Academy of Penitentiary Service; another 2-3 years are required to gain practical experience.

There are enough personnel in Ukraine: workload of the probation service employees is maximal, however does not exceed limits.

There is another problem: new institutions have been created on the basis of the old penitentiary service, and, accordingly, “old” staff is also employed.

“Many have been transferred to the service from prisons. Some of them kept that (old) thinking. For the reintegrating lawbreakers, this does not contribute much,” – explains Oleksandr Hatiiatullin, head of the NGO “Ukraine without Torture”.

Initially, law enforcement officers and lawyers have been recruited for the probation service, and nowadays, psychologists and social workers started to get involved.

Everyone will get a deserved punishment

Judicial system has also been positively impacted by the reform.

“Many judges say that without probation officers’ reports they do not know what kind of people they are dealing with. The report informs them what kind of a person is that, why he/she has committed a crime and which format of probation can be applied to that person provided the court decides to not imprison him/her”, – says Randall Barrow.

Every year, the number of convicts serving sentences in prisons will decrease and the number of probationers will increase. However, this does not mean that potentially dangerous people will remain at liberty. Such a biased attitude is one of the biggest barriers for the reform.

“Society does not accept it yet, it does not want to believe. Everyone expects that the punishment is to make the person imprisoned. In Lithuania, I have always asked a question: do you consider how much it costs to the state and is it really necessary to pay for this punishment that much in every case?” – said Dovydas Vitkauskas, head of the EU-project “Law-Justice”.

“Prisons should exist for criminals who have committed murder, rape or other serious violence, and not for minor offenders. Everyone would benefit therefrom. Better prisons will exist for those who have to serve their terms. And probability of a small offender repeating the crime would be lower,”- adds Randel Barrow.

Probation gives a chance to start a new life to those who lapsed – to find a job, to upgrade. Educated people are less inclined to repeat offenses in the future.

For example, Levan managed to marry and change his job several times during his probationary period. He is now looking for new opportunities to develop, is planning to go to English language courses. His example gives hope.

“It’s not easy to find a job, but I have not faced discrimination yet. When a thought on returning to the former “activities” emerged, I recalled what I had to go through. During the probation period, I still had a feeling of being supervised. And I continue to believe that my success depends on my own qualification. I think it all depends on me”, – recognizes Levan.

By Samira Abbasova

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