The blog is produced within the framework of the EU-funded project „Monitoring Government’s Commitments and Promoting the Reforms in the Penal Sector through the Engagement of CSOs“ implemented by Penal Reform International together with the partner organizations: Rehabilitation Initiative of Vulnerable Groups and Human Rights Center.
The international community has long agreed that the main purpose of the criminal sentence is not to punish the offenders, but to ensure their resocialization and to support their social integration. The United Nations and the Council of Europe standards directly emphasize that the state should ensure the rehabilitation of persons in conflict with the law. The national legislation also states that one of the main purposes of the punishment, along with other purposes (e.g., restoration of justice, prevention of a new crime) is to rehabilitate the offender.
I do not know how much of this the Georgian society realizes, perhaps not so much, but just to follow the logic, it should not be difficult to understand that by re-socializing and supporting the integration of the former convict, the whole society wins.
The rehabilitation-resocialization process of the offender is especially important in the penitentiary system. In general, deprivation of liberty is the most severe form of punishment and should be used only as a last resort. In addition, compared to other forms of punishment, this punishment is the most expensive one for the state, for a simple reason that the prisoner is under full care and control of the state and the state is obliged to provide all necessary services – food, medical service, etc. Therefore, it is logical that the purpose of placing a person in prison shall not be isolation. In most cases, these people return back to the society and they should return a bit better than they were before going into prison.
I have often discussed the situation in the Georgian penitentiary system with representatives of different professions and, frankly, I have rarely seen people who understand what are the ongoing processes inside the system and what challenges the system faces. Every so often, even those people, who are responsible to understand that due to their profession, do not have this understanding. I had been working in the penitentiary system for seven years, including six years on a managing position and 1 year in the penitentiary establishment itself. I must admit that only through working in prison and staying awake at nights there, I was able to actually understand what challenges are in the process of prison management.
In order to effectively organize rehabilitation of prisoners, the penitentiary system faces various challenges related to infrastructure, lack of staff and their qualification, as well as lack of services. However, one of the main challenges in this process is the criminal subculture inside the prison. This problem is particularly evident in large establishments, where the administration is unable to manage the existing processes due to the above-mentioned problems.
Obviously, the criminal subculture that we find in Georgian prisons is not a new phenomenon. It represents the pseudo-values established within the Soviet system, which are rooted not only in the penitentiary system but also in the society. In the prison system, the formation of this subculture has also influenced the formation of the institutional culture, which still exists and influences the functioning of the system. It is unfortunate that prison management, particularly in large establishments, is united with criminal subculture and manages the prison along with them and through them by using the rules of the criminal subculture. The state could not yet manage to break through this closed cycle.
In order to organize the rehabilitation process of prisoners, at the first stage it is important to assess their needs and, on the basis of this assessment, involve them in educational-rehabilitation-employment programs. Perhaps many know that according to the rules of the criminal subculture, labour and education are considered unacceptable. Taking this into consideration, it is obvious that in the establishments, where the influence of criminal subculture is big, involvement of prisoners in the rehabilitation process is and will be difficult and challenging. Whereas, without involvement of prisoners in educational-rehabilitation-employment programs, it is simply unimaginable to organize their rehabilitation-resocialization process. Hence, stronger the influence of criminal subculture in the prison, more impossible to organize the rehabilitation processes there.
I have often heard from people working at the penitentiary system that – “there is such a mentality among prisoners and they do not engage in the programs”. The important question needs to be asked here – is being part of the criminal subculture a free choice of all such prisoners? Or maybe they do not have another option? In most cases, this is not the choice of most prisoners. When the state fails to create an environment in prisons, which is free from the criminal subculture, and, moreover, the prison management, in some cases, is organizationally united with the criminal subculture, it is obvious that a large part of the prisoners will not go against the flow. In prison, the main concern of the prisoner is his/her personal safety and, if that is ensured, only then can you talk about their involvement in educational and rehabilitation programs. The prison administration is obliged to ensure the safety and security of all prisoners and give them the possibility of choice to get involved in rehabilitation programs.
Of course, such problems are not characteristic for all penitentiary establishments. To some extent, the state is taking steps towards the solution, which is reflected in the reports of the Public Defender of Georgia and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. For example, in cases of N11 Rehabilitation Establishment for Juveniles, N5 Women’s Penitentiary Establishment and N16 Penitentiary Establishment in Rustavi. However, less than 5% of total prison population is placed in these establishments. In this regard the particular problems are more characteristic to large penitentiary establishments (e.g., N17 in Rustavi, N14 in Geguti, N15 in Ksani), where most prisoners are serving their sentence. Unfortunately, there is a full imbalance between the number of prisoners and personnel in these establishments. Also, there are problems in regards to infrastructure and the lack of services.
I understand that there are objective difficulties in organizing the educational and rehabilitation process and I do not expect these problems to be solved in one day. However, there are no objective justifications for the problems identified in the report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Public Defender of Georgia. The document states that in one of the establishments, a group of prisoners, which has great influence over the management of the establishment, is in privileged conditions compared to other prisoners. For example, in their cell they have a large Plasma TV, aquarium, soft furniture, pictures on the walls, etc. Obviously, this cannot be justified by other existing challenges in the system. This is a clear sign of either a complete weakness or a conscious harmfulness of the prison administration. It is impossible to find another explanation. An unequal attitude towards prisoners is further intensifying the influence of criminal subculture in the establishments, causes the feeling of insecurity among prisoners (the CPT report also talks about the facts of violence among prisoners, which is caused by subculture) and naturally affects the motivation of prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs.
Create an environment in penitentiary establishments, which is free from criminal subculture, and most of the prisoners will get involved in educational-rehabilitation-employment programs!
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