On 23rd May 2012, Penal Reform International held a round table in Shymkent on the topic of ‘The system of re-socialisation of ex-prisoners in Kazakhstan: effective methods of coordination of the powers of state agencies’. The round table was within the framework of the PRI project ‘Rehabilitation of ex-prisoners and protection of their human rights by mutual efforts of civil society and state’, which was launched in January and is financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway.
Representatives of state agencies, the non-governmental sector, international experts and representatives of international organisations were invited to participate in the round table, as well as the deputy Director General of the Prison Service of the Kingdom of Norway, Andreas Skulberg.
The goal of the event was to discuss the re-socialisation of ex-prisoners and study the experience of the Centre for the social adaptation and rehabilitation of persons who have served a criminal sentence in Shymkent, which was established in 2012 by the local akimat (municipality).
Bahadyr Narymbetov, deputy Akim of Shymkent, opened the first session, on effective methods of coordination of state organs in re-socialisation of ex-prisoners, by speaking about the new centre for the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners that opened in Shymkent in January. He explained that its work is of great importance and noted the success that has already been observed in its first five months of operation.
Andreas Skulberg gave a presentation on the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners in Norway. He explained the Norwegian system of open prisons and half-way houses, and how health and education services in prison are provided by the same people as in the neighbouring community; this is designed to allow prisoners to remain connected to society. Mr Skulberg noted that the average prison sentence in Norway is 3 months, and that it is considered very important to make sentences no harsher than necessary. These are important reasons for the low recidivism rate in Norway.
Other representatives of different departments of local government also spoke about their work in this area, and how the centre for re-socialisation of ex-prisoners operates.
The second session was on the topic of development of social potential of ex-prisoners and how to improve the work of local government. Nigmat Kubenov gave a report on the prisoner rehabilitation centre in Pavlodar. In its 10 years of operation it has helped 723 people to sort out their documentation and find housing and other services. They have an annual budget of 2 million tenge (GBP8,500). Mr Kubenov noted that very few inmates of the centre are repeat offenders.
Representatives from Zhambyl oblast, Kyzylorda, Almaty and Akmolinsk oblast also shared their experience of working in this area. Kyzylorda has a centre for homeless people, which also includes work with ex-prisoners. They are looking at opening a special centre for ex-prisoners.
In answer to questions, Andreas Skulberg explained how the Norwegian ‘prison queue’ works, and how it influences judges to use alternative sanctions. He also reiterated his view that crime is largely due to poverty, and therefore there is an urgent need to help prisoners out of poverty, to prevent recidivism.
Lyubov Makasheva explained the sensitive approach that the centre tries to use when dealing with ex-prisoners, for example, labelling the relevant desk in the centre with the acronym ‘KUIS’ rather than ‘Assistance for ex-prisoners’ so as to avoid stigmatisation or embarrassment for the ex-prisoners.
In the third session, Ardak Sarybaevna introduced the work of Civil Society in re-socialisation. Evgenii Golendukhin spoke about his work with young people in Petropavlovsk, trying to help them develop independently in cooperation with the employment centre. Nurken Kursainov presented the work of “Credo” in Karaganda, and explained how they had rented two houses, one for men and one for women, where ex-prisoners could stay and receive help with access to education and healthcare. Elena Rastokina spoke about her work with HIV-infected patients in Ostkamen, including TB preventative sessions in penal colonies and a rehabilitation centre. Issues of rehabilitation and sorting out documentation were also discussed.
Various recommendations were made at the end of the roundtable. The first was that each prison should be run according to the same understanding of the law, so that they have equal standards. Only then will it be possible to improve the prisons. Everybody wants to improve the penal system; however the various plans and ideas must be unified to enable improvements to be carried out efficiently. It was noted that, at the moment, prisoners are in a bad state when they are released, and both the Prison Service and society at large should take responsibility for this and make sure that each individual is fully valued as a person while in prison. Society should also take responsibility for the fact that prisoners are let out and have nowhere to go, causing them to fall into further crime. Effective work must be done to help ex-prisoners. Raikhan Hobdabergenova concluded optimistically, saying that the first step had been made in resolving this major issue.
Read an interview with Andreas Skulberg (Russian)