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.
36-year-old Giga Tskimanauri is one of the beneficiaries of the social enterprise of the Center for Information and Counseling “Tanadgoma”. Giga served the sentence of seven years in prison. He had problems of substance dependence. He has been actively involved in art therapy and psychological assistance groups for the last six months. The EU-funded project “Improved Opportunities for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Re-socialization of Former Prisoners, Prisoners, and Probationers” fundamentally changed his life.
Like Giga, more than thousand individuals received various services in the same project: medical, legal or psychological assistance. “The convicted person cannot even find a simple job in Georgia. S/he is not trusted even by his/her own nearest circle, let alone by employers. I was lucky I had a chance to be involved in this project and today I feel like a dignified person, I have acquired new skills – I learned to work on clay and ceramics, I obtained a new group of friends; the project gave me the moral support. However, many people like me, former prisoners or probationers, especially those with substance abuse problems, will probably never get into or even learn about this project. As every project has its own period and will eventually end, the state should take care of their return to the society,” – says Giga.
Social Enterprise & Art Therapy – the Way Back to the Society
The social enterprise, where Giga Tskimanauri is employed, is part of the project “Improved Opportunities for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Re-socialization of Former Prisoners, Prisoners, and Probationers”. 16 convicted persons worked there during the two years’ period. The main requirement during the recruitment was exactly their not so “ostentatious past”.
Once every six months, new beneficiaries are employed in the enterprise replacing the previous ones, as a result of the interview. The social enterprise is called “TGpromo” and is located in Tbilisi, on the basis of “Tanadgoma”. Former prisoners and persons with substance dependence are taught how to print paintings and logos on textile, pottery and stationery items.
The enterprise has a friendly atmosphere. Often they receive orders.
On the lower floor of the social enterprise there is a ceramic workshop. Besides Giga, other beneficiaries – Mancho, Mariam and Giorgi – also work there today. Within this interesting project, similar ceramics and clay studios have been opened in Ksani and Geguti penitentiary establishments as well as in the village of Gremi, in the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center in Kakheti.
Beneficiaries work with joy. They are given salaries and sometimes receive money from selling their handcrafts at different charity exhibitions. After refining their new practical skills, they get special certificates, which may be beneficial for their further professional advancement.
The workshop of the social enterprise is led by the artist/graphic artist Otar Murachashvili. He has great experience of participating in social projects. According to his observations, from the beginning of the project (from 2017) the social enterprise and its friendly environment has turned people, who had problems with integration into the society, towards the family, friends and peaceful lives.
Beneficiaries are also studying to work with computers and printers, and, several times a week, psychologists and art therapists assist them in psychosocial rehabilitation.
“For these people this social enterprise is one of the tools to start a normal life. How they use this chance is up to them. Former prisoners with substance dependence have specific needs, but we already know how to approach and motivate them,” – said Otar Murachashvili.
According to the beneficiary Giga Tskimanauri, he felt devastated after serving a sentence. Stress received from a strict regime in the Geguti prison, a difficult surgery, separation from his wife, and later – unemployment, and sometimes being on the verge of starvation, could become a precondition towards “dishonest means”, as he said.
“I received amnesty when I was at the hospital, but when I was released, the state did not offer anything to me. I returned to an empty house. Despite the fact that I was constantly trying to find a job at different construction sites, taxi services or pastry shops, the employers refrained from hiring me. As soon as they would realize that I was a former prisoner, their facial expressions changed and they indirectly pointed towards the door. At “Tanadgoma” I was told that my conviction was not a problem and since then I have not even missed a day here… It is a very humane project. Thanks to it I really felt that I am a full member of this society,” – says Giga.
According to him, he did not only learn how to work with clay and was helped to solve his health problems within the project, but he also realized what he was capable of doing. It seems that life started from a new point and, most importantly, with more hope.
The project ends in June of this year, but Giga says that he feels better and more active than a year ago, when he came to “Tanadgoma” following the advice of his acquaintance. Giga will return to his old occupation as a cameraman, or will be employed in an enterprise to support his two adolescent children.
Beyond the Successful Stories of Rehabilitation and Re-socialization
What should the newly released person expect now? Should they have an opportunity to support oneself and the family? How should the government and the non-governmental sector help him/her to return to the society? For this purpose, the process of preparing the convicts for release from penitentiary establishments is crucial, as part of the “transitional management”.
In this regard, the existing situation was made evident through the research conducted within this project by the joined efforts of the “Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups”, “Tanadgoma” and Dutch organization “Mainline Foundation”.
It is noteworthy that the main goal of the project is to improve psychosocial rehabilitation and re-socialization of former inmates, prisoners and probationers. One of the tasks of the project is to evaluate the ongoing process of the so called “Transitional Management” at the penitentiary and probation level. The research is multifaceted and includes recommendations, some of which have already been accepted and included in the Action Plan by the Ministry of Justice.
In 2015, the European Union worked on different fronts regarding re-socialization within the program supporting the justice reform in Georgia. Rehabilitation and re-socialization programs were introduced as one of the priorities in this program. The emphasis was made on the high standards of individual sentence planning process and, in its scope, the program of preparation of convicted prisoners for release.
According to the experts, positive changes were implemented within the reform process, but some shortcomings still remain. Within the research, special attention was given to international standards and reorganization of rehabilitation process in a way, which bases the serving of the sentence on an individual plan. These plans should include the employment of convicts, education and preparation for release.
“The duty of the society does not end with a prisoner’s release. No less significant process starts after the release. For this purpose, it is important to prepare convicts for the release. Convicts should be given opportunities to participate in variety of programs, which will help them in the process of painless integration in the society. For this purpose, all appropriate means shall be used – religious care, vocational guidance and training, social protection, employment, physical development,” – is said in the research recommendations.
Tato Kelbakiani, chairman of the organization “Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups”, said that the reform resulted in some positive changes, but the improvement process of the shortcomings is slow. Thus, it is important for the Ministry of Corrections to develop a short-term and long-term plan for the development of the preparation for release system.
“The main condition of this process is individual assessment of the person. Working on problems should start from inside of the prison and continue outside. Of course, certain services are present already, but they are insufficient and cover only few people. Provided services are mostly funded by donors and NGOs. The state does not spend many resources in this regard. In addition, there is lack of professional resources in the prison, which would make individual assessments. One psychologist is not enough for 2,000 prisoners,” – says Tato Kelbakiani.
The list of problems does not only include legislative shortcomings. For example, the research shows that individual sentence planning processes are not in all penitentiary establishments.
In terms of individual sentence planning process, relevantly better situation is in N5 women’s, N11 juveniles and N16 low-risk penitentiary establishments. The reason is a small number of prisoners, which makes it easier to organize individual sentence planning (at the end of September 2017, there were 258 convicted prisoners at N5 penitentiary establishment, 20 convicted prisoners – at N11 establishment and 135 convicted prisoners – at N16 establishment).
Special programs are essential for efficiently organizing the process of preparation for release of convicts from the penitentiary system. The research revealed that social workers have developed a unified module of such a program and there is a possibility to use it in all penitentiary establishments, but it is not used in practice. State structures have contradictory information about which penitentiary establishments implements this program at this stage.
The programs of preparation for release were being implemented in various establishments in different years and covered only a small number of the convicts. For instance, 3624 persons were early or timely released in 2015, and only 65 of them were involved in the preparation for release program.
“One of the problems is the lack of social workers as well. The outflow of human resources from the system is noticeable. Their work is genuinely stressful, but many of them are not professional social workers. It is necessary to make this job more attractive. There is no problem in this regard at the juvenile establishment, but at all the other prisons,” – specified Tato Kelbakiani.
According to him, both in the penitentiary system and the National Probation Agency there is the lack of services, which serves as one of the obstacles to the process of integration of convicts into the society.
As a result of the research it was revealed that, for instance, in January 2017, only 436 out of 21,741 convicts, under the care and control of the National Probation Agency, had access to various services. The majority of interviewed respondents refer to the lack of services as well.
From the views expressed by the majority of the respondents it is clear that the lack of services is also one of the main challenges of the Center for Crime Prevention. However, most of the beneficiaries positively assess the practice of the Center for Crime Prevention regarding the provision of small business grants to former prisoners to initiate business activities. The majority of respondents have also indicated the unsustainability and lack of continuity of services as one of the challenges.
According to Georgian experts, the first problem is the rehabilitation infrastructure, because even if the services were sufficient, the establishments do not have special areas where they would be implemented (training, private conversation with a psychologist).
The long-term recommendations of the research indicate that the country should move to smaller penitentiary establishments in the future. The existing establishments are the remnants of the Soviet era.
Criminal Subculture, Impaired Communication between the Agencies and Other Problems
Criminal subculture remains to be one of the challenges to normal functioning of the penitentiary system and involvement of convicts in services. Discussions on this issue have been ongoing for a long time, and public discussions are also being held, but the situation does not change.
“Because of this mentality, people cannot even participate in rehabilitation programs. There are many who are willing to participate in the programs, but refuse because they are under the influence of others. According to the rules of the criminal subculture, involvement of convicts in the educational and rehabilitation programs is a bad tone. That is why it is necessary to have a vision and more bravery to find solutions. The only international experience in this regard is the separation of the prisoners into risk groups. Separate work with them will be more productive and internal security will increase,” – explains Tato Kelbakiani.
The research talks about the interagency communication and quality control system. It has been revealed that this system is underdeveloped and, therefore, the analysis of the unified process of preparation for release cannot be conducted.
Also, there is a problem of communication between the agencies. Often, even the information about the available services and possibilities outside the prison and the responsible agencies does not reach the prisoners.
The research confirmed that cooperation between the Penitentiary Department and the National Probation Agency regarding the preparation of convicts for release begins only 3 months before the possible early conditional release. Any kind of cooperation or exchange of information between these two agencies, which are under the umbrella of one ministry, about the release of convicts for any other reason than the early conditional release, is currently non-existent. Nonetheless, the convicted individuals may be released from penitentiary establishments in different ways – pardon, amnesty, postponement of the sentence – but at the same time have a conditional sentence.
“We hope for significant changes. We have presented the research to then the Ministry of Corrections. We are now trying to advocate for these issues, especially considering that the number of donor funded projects will decrease and the state will still have to provide certain services. I think that an alliance should be created among the service providers, which will define future steps and enter into a dialogue with the state agencies. So far, the system does not develop institutionally and there is a feeling that we are going by the force of inertia,” – concluded Tato Kelbakiani.
Rehabilitation Programs in Favour of Secondary Prevention of Crime
Vazha Kasrelishvili is an author of many interesting initiatives within or outside of penitentiary establishments. He is also the manager of the project “Improved Opportunities for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Re-socialization of Former Prisoners, Prisoners, and Probationers”.
“We have been working in penitentiary establishments since 2001. We are implementing different projects on the site. First we started with spreading information about infectious diseases and safe behaviours, and when the new establishments were built and certain conditions were created we continued with rehabilitation and re-socialization projects. We have conducted research on the needs of harm reduction services, supervision examinations on HIV infection, etc.” – says Vazha Kasrelishvili, who can professionally determine the needs of vulnerable groups, including people with substance dependence, due to his accumulated experience in this area.
Vazha Kasrelishvili says that the project has several specific goals, which are implemented by psychosocial bureaus in Tbilisi, Imereti, Adjara and Samegrelo, as well as Kakheti (Gremi) Psychosocial Center. In total, the project has already covered over 1000 beneficiaries.
Case Manager Tako Tevdorashvili works in Tbilisi Bureau. Several times a month she goes to penitentiary establishments, sometimes probation bureaus and local offices of the Center for Crime Prevention to invite beneficiaries.
“We visit penitentiary establishments twice a month: in women’s penitentiary establishment, in Rustavi, in Ksani, etc. We meet prisoners whose release date is in less than three months. During individual and group meetings we offer them various free services – healthcare, referral, social presence, and we provide information about Gremi Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center. If they do not address us in a certain period after they are released from the establishment, we remind them about our existence by calling them on the phone. This approach works well,” – says Tako Tevdorashvili.
According to Tako, the attractive side of this project is that besides the prisoners, former prisoners and probationers, including drug users, the psychosocial and medical rehabilitation services are also offered to their family members.
During this period, the referral or social presence services were provided to 800 individuals from medical, harm reduction, legal and social service providers.
As for the statistics, within the project the rehabilitation program “12 Steps” (for drug users) covered all regions. 144 beneficiaries underwent the Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy; 240 beneficiaries underwent psychosocial rehabilitation in the “former prisoners’ assistance” groups.
During the project, more than 20 such groups were created in each bureau, where people shared their stories, social skills, participated in various social activities, tried to present themselves, “restore” relationships with family and friends, find a job.
Within the framework of the project, 108 prisoners were involved in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (it is noteworthy that therapists and patients work together in this therapy to understand the patient’s problem and reveal the patterns of thinking which are causing difficulties), Art Therapy modules have been developed for drug users within prison conditions and outside.
Art therapies were introduced in Geguti and Ksani prisons, social enterprise and Gremi Center, where up to 50 beneficiaries underwent the psychosocial rehabilitation. Labour therapy, using the agricultural environment, is also popular at the Center.
According to the experts involved in the project, the work in penitentiary establishments had a good outcome. The prisoner has a lot of free time in the closed space, so s/he joyfully gets involved in the art therapy. The handcrafts created in and outside of the establishments are exposed at the exhibitions and are often appreciated by the public.
“We have to work hard, so that the person realizes his/her crime and is not dangerous for the society when released from prison. But for this purpose we should not torture them, we should reduce the risk of repeated offence. Penitentiary establishments should provide opportunities for employment and sports activities. For example, in the framework of the project we have recently held a tournament in mini-football. The aim of the activity was to take a joint responsibility and to improve re-socialization of former prisoners and probationers in order to prevent secondary offences. Representatives of governmental, civil society organizations and beneficiaries participated in the tournament,” – says Vazha Kasrelishvili.
On our question, what will happen after the end of the project, the answer was that the work, which has been introduced in penitentiary establishments, will continue even after the project. It is already “established” – ceramics and clay workshops are equipped with equipment and supplies, specialists are trained and there are many who are willing to work there. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy will also continue for individuals with drug dependence in all three penitentiary establishments, and later it will be spread (based on the already elaborated modules) to other establishments.
“The State currently invests a small amount of resources in the rehabilitation and re-socialization activities, but we hope that our recommendations will not be ignored. Meanwhile we will continue trying to obtain donor funding. At this stage we are planning to develop the Gremi Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center and to maintain the social enterprise and art therapy in Tbilisi bureau,” – says the project manager.
In developed countries, psychosocial rehabilitation of prisoners, former prisoners and probationers has a special role in the prevention of criminal behaviour and prevention of secondary offences. Having only punishment-oriented approaches do not work. It is necessary to develop balanced approaches, which are oriented on rehabilitation and re-socialization, in order to change the criminal behaviour of the person. In this respect, it is especially important to overcome the stigma that exists in the society against convicted individuals, which makes it more difficult to re-socialize them.
The representatives of the NGO sector believe that the main purpose of sentencing should be to rehabilitate and re-socialize the convicts. This is especially necessary for those, who are placed in the penitentiary system temporarily. So far, organizing rehabilitation and re-socialization of prisoners is associated with great effort and challenges – lack of services, unarranged infrastructure, personnel qualification and organizational culture.
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