Blog by PRI’s Executive Director Alison Hannah
On Tuesday evening I arrived in Kiev for the final conference reporting on the outcomes of our 3-year programme to support penitentiary reform in Ukraine. As our Regional Director’s flight from Moscow was delayed, I went ahead to our hotel on a bizarre taxi ride along back streets and across derelict land to cut through the rush hour traffic on Kiev’s many highways.
The conference was organised by Public Advocate, our project managers for the programme. 60 participants contributed to the discussion, representing national and international partners. While very appreciative of the support for penal reform provided by our donors the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency over many years, there were many (highly vocal!) expressions of disappointment that after this successful programme ends there is no solid funding basis to build on the achievements so far.
I was not the only speaker who admitted that, at the start of the programme, I had some doubts as to whether we would be able to meet all our ambitious targets. More so than most of our programmes, this covered a wide range of key PRI themes. Objectives included developing a Centre of Competence in the Bila Tzerkva training school for prison personnel, protecting and promoting the rights of particularly vulnerable groups of prisoners – including women (and mothers with babies in prison), children and lifers. It also aimed to reduce the use of pre-trial detention in the Kiev region, recommend changes to legislation and practice where needed, and to spread knowledge of good practice in prison and criminal justice management. These many different strands meant that we worked with a large number of Ukrainian partners, governmental and non-governmental, key ones being the Penitentiary Service, the Centre for Judicial Studies and the Women’s Information and Consultative Centre. However, as one speaker put it, the programme was ‘doomed to succeed’ and all present expressed their feelings of pride and satisfaction with the progress made.
The day ended with a dinner at which a number of toasts celebrated the collaboration with and support from national and international partners (particularly the Polish, Russian and Swiss prison training establishments).
The second day was devoted to discussing how to capitalise on work done so far to ensure this happens. Many of the recommended changes to laws and regulations have been taken up, but the main thing lacking is to get a legislative basis for the mother and baby homes inside prisons and this was agreed to be high priority.
The Centre of Competence was seen to have broken new ground in developing its training courses – much more interactive in methods and covering a new range of topics. The course on suicide prevention, in particular, has been very well received and should be one of the first to be integrated into mainstream teaching at the training school for prison officers. The main issue is how to integrate all six new courses into an already overstretched training programme, but the conclusion was that ‘where there is a will there is a way’.
In discussing how best to improve conditions in places of detention over time, the important role that NGOs play in the public oversight committees (POCs) was stressed. By participating in these, the POCs can be extremely effective in monitoring places of detention and pressing for better conditions.
Now journalists have become more aware of this field of criminal justice, due to training given through the programme, many felt this could be continued through journalism schools and the penitentiary service.
To sum up what was a very full and lively two days of discussion, a lot has been achieved and, with still much to do, there is strong enthusiasm and determination to keep the momentum going. And of course there is some sadness that a successful programme has come to an end – for the moment at least.
Alison Hannah, 13 April 2012
See the dedicated project website: http://penreform.org.ua/en.html