EU supports probation system reform in Ukraine

One of the probation clients got into a traffic accident, while driving the customer’s expensive car. The other started a drunken brawl with the patrol police. A hunter got his unregistered gun confiscated, a homeless person was accused of a petty theft… Previously no other option than going to prison was available to most of them. For a long time, the majority of the prisoners have ended up behind the bars, they had no other option. However, the things changed 2 years ago. Thousands of people now are rehabilitated and corrected on the basis of their community rather than imprisoned.  But not many people know about this transformation in Ukraine.  Meanwhile, in 2 years of the probation functioning, more than 200,000 convicts got the chance to correct without deprivation of liberty. Currently, 65,000 people are serving community-based sentences.

The European Union Project Pravo-Justice, which involves Western and domestic experts in this work, helps to introduce the probation in Ukraine. They provide advice to the probation staff, conduct trainings, and introduce volunteer programs. To which extent are they succeeding to reform the post-Soviet system and change the society’s attitude towards the convicts, with the support of European countries?

Ihor from Dnipro is currently serving an alternative sentence. A sentence of five years in prison has been replaced by a three-year probation period in the community. The court ordered such a punishment for the incident when the man got in a car accident, driving a client’s vehicle. Ihor tells: he drove to a store on someone else’s car. It was winter, and he did not notice the open sewer well under the snow. The car has been damaged and the client has requested a significant amount of money, otherwise he would file a statement to the police. Ihor had no such money, and the case got to court. Still, considering the first conviction and positive characteristics by relatives and friends, he was sentenced to probation term.

“Probation is a good innovation,” Ihor says. – I regularly visit the probation department; specialists work with me. They control me, but they also help me manage my behavior and take care of my problems. Twice a month I attend lectures, where I get legal knowledge and learn about the peculiarities of human behavior. I began to think more about my lifestyle and on the incident that could cost me freedom. I believe that the situation with the car was an error and I can fix it. Now I live at home, I changed my job, and now I am even officially employed. I am glad that I can spend time with the children, and not to be in prison “, – the man remarks.

Ihor has three children: two young kids,  three and four years old, and the eldest daughter by his wife from the first marriage. He has been raising her from an early childhood. She calls him “daddy”, and he calls her “daughtie”.

“After attending the lectures, I learned to better control myself,” the man says. – Now I am trying to avoid bad companies and conflict situations. Earlier, I could hang out with the guys after work, but now I’m rushing home to my children”.

Roman lives in a town in Ivano-Frankivsk. The man refused to provide his photo, because he was ashamed of his actions. In May last year, he got into a drunken brawl with the patrol police squad. The court sentenced him to one year of probation. He is currently registered with the probation department and regularly attends group sessions with a psychologist.

“Other two guys are undergoing a probation program. Psychologists work with us. They helped me get to know society and myself better. It helps me avoid conflicts, and now I will not get into the same situation”, the client comments.

Roman is 27, he lives with his parents and brother. He supports the idea of probation: it helped him understand his errors and to maintain a conventional lifestyle.

“There are 197 people in the Soborny district in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. Most of them are convicted of petty theft and traffic accidents. For example, a someone pilfered brandy from a supermarket or violated traffic rules. There are drug addicts, robbers, and persons accused of banditism, but there are not many of them”, says Lyudmila Dolzhenko, head of the Sobornyi district department of the SE “Probation Center” in Dnipro oblast.


“We visit our customers at home, and they are required to show up regularly in our center. We cooperate with a number of organizations: both state and faith-based, and public … This is our so-called Resource Bank, from where we can obtain assistance to solve our clients’ life problems. Together we are doing our best to prevent new crimes”, Lyudmila Dolzhenko says. – For example, we refer drug users to the rehabilitation course, the unemployed – to the employment center. We register those who need housing, in the accommodation queue. If a person does not comply with the probation rules, does not come to the probation department in time, then we must send the documents to court to consider a more severe punishment. But there are few such cases, only about 2%”.

The main thing is to find out what the person needs, to find out why they committed crime, the head of the probation department says. Someone might just a place to spend the night and a slice of bread. Such assistance is provided to all people by religious organizations. A large proportion of clients need employment. After referring them to an employment center and communicating with entrepreneurs, we manage to find a job for up to a quarter of our clients. This is a great result, Lyudmila Dolzhenko comments.

“Of course, we would not employ the person who committed the theft into a store. They will not work as a cash desk assistant or seller. However, such offenders successfully build houses or offices. And we are convinced that the likelihood of re-offending is reduced many times then”, says the head of the relevant probation body.

In total, 8 people work in the probation department of the Sobornyi district in Dnipropetrovsk. But in Tysmenytsia district in Ivano-Frankivsk there are only two employees. Nataliya Havrysh is one of them. Nataliya has served in the law enforcement bodies since 2010 and has been working as a probation officer for two years. There are convicts from 39 settlements of Tysmenytsia district registered in the sector headed by Nataliya Havrysh. However, there are far fewer convicts on probation in the area.

“The majority of persons serving probation programs are convicted for inflicting bodily injuries. There are people who got in a traffic accident. Often people are brought to court for carrying unregistered weapons: ours is a hunting area. There are people with higher and incomplete higher medical education, – says Nataliya Havrysh. – These are the convicts, who have made a fallacy somewhere, and sincerely regret it. Usually they are friendly and smiling”.


Initially, probation officers conduct probation interviews with clients and complete special forms. This is how professionals determine the needs of the people, the risks they may face, their social and financial status, health, marital status and immediate environment.

If it is necessary, for example, to change the criminally-oriented attitudes or to get rid of addictions, psychologists work in the probation centers, conduct individual and group sessions. During this form of work, convicts can discuss personal issues, life-threatening situations, and ways to solve problems. They watch motivational videos.

The clients go through an extensive interview and screening at the end of their sentence to determine what changes they have developed.

“When undergoing probation or other special programs, one has the opportunity to explore themselves, overcome internal barriers and obstacles when building contacts in society. Most of our clients are friendly and conscientious, – emphasizes Nataliya Havrysh. They try to register on time and attend all the events. However, it is not easy to reach the remote villages of the area. If they do not arrive, they usually call and inform us”.

Nataliya Havrysh and her colleagues consider the replacement of the punitive system with the rehabilitation approach to be a very positive step: they know that the prison never corrects anyone. They admit that there are still many unresolved issues. Yes, there are still problems with equipment supply. By and by, the office receives some equipment, but there is not enough media screens and flipcharts to hold trainings with convicts. They are also very keen about introducing psychologists to the staff: even with specialized training, the persons with mostly legal background find it difficult to assess the clients’ condition and risks.

Moreover, they want the society to understand the benefits of probation and engage more in the work with those who had once made a mistake. After all, many Ukrainian citizens still do not know what the word “probation” means. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 probation officers work every day to reduce the offense rate and to help clients live a happy, fulfilling life.


By Oksana Viter