During the hot July of 2018 I was taking the Unified National Exams. My third exam was in English language. I arrived early at the examination centre. There was a prisoner in front of me during the registration, maybe of my age or slightly older, accompanied by two escorts. After redirecting him to the exam room, the registrar said – hopefully he will be placed with the ones like him. My exam room was next to that exam room. I did not look inside, but I knew that there were “people like me” as well. Unfortunately for the registrar, the prisoners were not placed in isolated exam rooms.
This situation raised few questions in my mind then. Firstly, I was interested in educational programs and other opportunities for the prisoners. Also, I wanted to know what kind of rehabilitation programs are being implemented in penitentiary establishments, and what does that long and consonantal word – resocialization – mean.
I was no longer a child, and I realized that the words of the registrar “the ones like him” were not just naively spoken, but behind them they covered hate and fear towards the offenders. I was wondering why a person working in education field had such an attitude towards a person who was already serving a sentence and who could otherwise be her child or student and who would return to the community after a while and continue life there. That was when I remembered that, years ago, I participated in the Civic Education Olympiad, on the official Facebook page of which I once noticed a post, according to which juvenile prisoners participated in the first round of the Olympiad and those who made it to the second round were personally awarded by the director of the organization. I was interested what happened next. Did they participate in the second round? The first round was held electronically and all the students completed assignments from their school, so the prisoners could write the assignment remotely from prison. The second round was a written assignment and centres were selected in all regions where participants would write tests. Unfortunately, I could not find any information on how the events unfolded in the following stages of the Olympiad. The official Facebook page of the Civic Education Olympiad was deleted as soon as the Olympiad was over, and the website of the Special Penitentiary Service contains information about the first round only, where I could find the exact number of participants. As it turned out, 12 juvenile offenders managed to pass the first round, which is a really good result considering that only three students from my school (which is a big school and about 30 students participated in the Olympiad) made it to the second round.
During a marathon, one participant may stop running midway while the others continue. The above-mentioned case of the Civic Education Olympiad is somewhat like this, though it is also different, some of its participants have not lost, but had to abandon it midway due to existing circumstances, while others continued towards the finish line.
The main goal of the Civic Education Olympiad was to raise awareness and civic consciousness among students. However, what is the point of setting such a glorious goal if some adolescents cannot continue to participate?
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that “the purposes of a sentence of imprisonment or similar measures deprivative of a person’s liberty are primarily to protect society against crime and to reduce recidivism”. I wonder how we protect the society against crime, if we do not care for the offenders and take measures for their rehabilitation?
Fortunately, the Georgian system is gradually evolving in this regard. If a particular program had been implemented today, juvenile offenders would have been able to participate at various stages, as some studies show that there have been some positive changes in regards to rehabilitation and resocialization from 2014 to 2018.
For example, the number of educational and rehabilitation programs have increased in 2018 compared to 2014. The number of educational programs has increased in N2 penitentiary establishment, and N12, N14 and N16 penitentiary establishments are distinguished by the number of courses and programs as well. It should also be noted that the Ombudsman’s reports from 2013 and 2014 indicated a lack of rehabilitation programs at the N3, N6, N7, N9, N18 and N19 penitentiary establishments. In this regard, positive changes are noticeable at N19 and N3 penitentiary establishments, the latter having a stress management course in 2018, and as for the establishment N19, with three programs operating here: art therapy, ergo-therapy and penitentiary stress management. A wide variety of educational and rehabilitation programs at women’s penitentiary establishment N5 should also be emphasised, where various psychosocial rehabilitation programs, sports and cultural events and vocational training courses were being provided.
We should also talk about certain stories that occasionally appear on the internet and show that people lighten up their life behind the bars in different ways – Lasha Pitskhelauri, who works on leather and whose wonderful products are sold in prestigious shops; Mikhailo, who makes electronic music in prison. If not for the achievements and progress in this field, these two and many others would not be able to find the motivation to continue living.
It is a fact that most people get first-hand information about prison life and prisoners from pop culture, especially movies. For instance, in the screen adaption of Stephen King’s famous novella “Shawshank Redemption”, “Red” tells us that thanks to the persistence and determination of the main character, Andy, it was possible to create the best prison library in New England, which has significantly contributed to improving the skills of prisoners. After watching the movie, I got interested in this issue and found that there is a really good library in Rustavi N5 women’s penitentiary establishment. I cannot say for certain how it is in comparison with modern New England library, though it is truly remarkable for Georgian reality.
Despite many positive facts and processes, the problem of rehabilitation and resocialization of the convicted individuals still remains critical in various establishments. For example, the Public Defender’s report of 2018 states that no rehabilitation activities have been carried out in the penitentiary establishment N6 for the first three months of 2018, and only three programs were implemented throughout 2017. The situation is made worse by the lack of social workers and psychologists in the establishments. There are only 3 psychologists in the above-mentioned N6 establishment, the group therapy is not possible due to the high risk and it is impossible for three psychologists to serve an average of 209 prisoners individually. This problem is also present in other prisons, for example, there are only 2 psychologists working at N17 penitentiary establishment.
Of course, there are many problems that still need to be resolved, but we should not forget the positive sides of the prison reform process that allow prisoners to return to society and make themselves fully-fledged citizens.
Lastly, I would like to say that in July 2018, the entrants were asked to write an English language exam essay on how teenagers prefer to spend their spare time. I do not know what the convict, sitting in the exam room next to me, felt reading the title of the essay, I do not know what his spare time is like and how he spends it, though I wish there are no registrars in the future dividing the world based on the principle of “us” and “them”, no Olympiads in which participation needs to be stopped, and certain time when we still feel a little freedom and full membership of the society.
For the Georgian version, please visit the following link: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%a1%e1%83%ae%e1%83%95%e1%83%90%e1%83%9c%e1%83%90%e1%83%98%e1%83%a0%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%98-%e1%83%93%e1%83%90-%e1%83%a9%e1%83%95%e1%83%94%e1%83%9c%e1%83%9c%e1%83%90%e1%83%98%e1%83%a0/