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 story in this article is fictional, though very similar to reality. Therefore, I will allow myself to use the “case” presented here, as lawyers often call it, to analyze what is the task of juvenile justice? How do we determine a child’s best interest when he or she is in conflict with the law? Gradually, many more questions will probably arise.
The story began like this:
A retired single woman returns home on one of the cold winter evenings. She sells lemons in the corner of the street. Today she had a total of 5 lemons for sale, 1 GEL per each. The profit is 2,5 GEL in total. The woman split the money in half, one half for grocery shopping and the other for spending before she receives her pension. As she approached the house, she heard the fast footsteps from behind, but before she comprehended the situation, someone grabbed her handbag and ran away. The woman called the police. The next day, 15-year-old Giorgi was arrested.
And here the question arises: what should we do to prevent Giorgi from re-offending?
Let’s see what the answer to this question will be if Giorgi’s life develops according to the traditional justice scenario:
There are several characters in this scenario: a police officer, a prosecutor, Giorgi’s lawyer, Giorgi’s legal representative, a judge. What are the roles of each of them? The prosecutor alleges that Giorgi committed the crime. The lawyer is in the opposite position – he claims that Giorgi is innocent or many reasons led him to commit the crime – Giorgi is a victim! The judge must answer the following questions: Which law has been violated? Who broke the law? What punishment does he deserve? If we follow the logic, the teenager involved holds either the identity of a perpetrator or a victim. However, Giorgi is now in his teens, at this stage of his life he has to answer the question – who am I? If he, when he gets into the juvenile justice system, gets the answer that he is guilty or even a victim, does that prevent him from re-offending?
Teens who go through the process of gaining the identity within the prison walls face a serious threat from the standpoint that after release they cannot adapt to the environment – their identities are entirely related to the prison habitat, “I-guilty”, “I-ex Prisoner “, this so-called stigmatized image prevents them from acquiring a new identity, it can be said that they are left without an identity, therefore, they unconsciously return to their usual identity, which is reflected in recidivism. The threat is even more serious in a society where the resources of resocialization and reintegration are not high.
Will Giorgi be the “winner” if the viewpoint of a lawyer wins the process?! No! It doesn’t serve his best interests. How can the viewpoint of a lawyer -“He is innocent!”- be a guide to George’s life when he truly committed a crime and caused serious damage to a retired woman. That would be an encouragement of a crime! Nor is the lawyer’s second point of view the solution when he argues that “this child is a victim of circumstances, otherwise he would not have committed the crime.” Yes, this is often the case, without doubt, an adolescent’s antisocial behavior is determined by many external factors-socio-economic factors in the country, family environment, parenting, school history, and school environment, neighborhood, etc. However, what the identity of the victim will give to Giorgi? The nature of the victim is paradoxical, the person has two “solutions” from being the victim – either he remains in the victim’s role forever, which prevents him from moving forward, integrating into society, his personal growth or he moves to a revenge mode and with the motive – “Everyone owes me!” becomes the perpetrator.
It turns out that neither way will work.
In this scenario, all decisions lead to an increased risk of crime. Therefore its conclusion is hopeless.
The Juvenile Justice Code, which we adopted in Georgia in early 2016, is a completely new vision, there is no dilemma here – victim or culprit. The main thing here is the best interest of the child and the fact that all should stand on the adolescent’s side – the Police, the prosecutor, the lawyer, the judge, and the general society. Not everyone against one, but as in traditional justice, everyone for the one and around one.
New characters are entering this scenario and everyone has a different task: who was injured? What are the needs of the victim? What does the child need to not stop his personal development and, at the same time, reduce the risks of re-offending? Here, the focus is on solving the problems for both parties (the child and the victim) and redressing.
The prosecutor decides to avoid the juvenile from the “defendant’s chair” and diverts him from the penal system, nowhere, in the child’s biography it will no longer be recorded the stigmatized word “juvenile offender”. At the same time, a social worker is involved in the process, who studies Giorgi’s needs, his strengths, school history, and family history. The social worker’s task, by analyzing the risks and protective factors together with the prosecutor and the mediator, is to determine how Giorgi manages his life, so the system looks not at the disadvantages and shortcomings, but at the child’s resources – what can he do? What can we rely on in his person or his environment that will reduce the risks of re-offending?
Is this process effective?
One of the most important figures in this scenario is the mediator. He/she works with the parties. With the child, his family, the victim. The task of the mediator is to help to balance the communication between the parties, to restore the damage, and the whole process is focused on the child to understand the damage he caused and to take responsibility for his behavior.
However, there are many obstacles along the way:
For example, Giorgi thinks that “no big deal had happened, there was only 20 GEL in the handbag, which has already been reimbursed, what did I do wrong? Why does a social worker come to visit me at my house? Why was I summoned to the prosecutor’s office?”
The victim, a retired woman, thinks “It is worse to conceal what they have done, they must punish him to understand what he has done! If they don’t do what needs to be done, tomorrow, he will commit worse things, he will rush into our homes”. But she changes her standpoint when the mediator tells her about Giorgi’s family – a single mother raises him, she is at work most of the time, they struggle financially, he discouraged to study, but it hasn’t always been the same, look at his notebook, he wrote the quotes of the famous people, some of them he read in books, others he collected at school, at the lessons, he plays football, and he plays well, he is a promising athlete. The woman decides to meet Giorgi at the mediation conference to “to look into his eyes.”
The culmination of the program of diversion and mediation is the Mediation Conference, which is attended by the mediator, the prosecutor, the victim, the social worker, the child and the legal representative of the child.
The main question in this process sounds as follows: Tell us, what happened and how did you feel when you were attacked?
Giorgi hears the story of the victim: “I have been living alone for years. It is very difficult for me to go out, but I pressure myself to leave the house; if I sell at least 5 lemons per day, I know I will be able to survive until the end of the month … My pension is enough to cover medical and utility expenses. After that day, I can no longer walk on the streets, I am scared, my knees are shaking and I feel bad, sometimes my blood pressure elevates.”
Giorgi’s mother also shares how her legs were shaking when she learned about Giorgi’s crime, and how embarrassed she is now while sitting at this table.
Giorgi must be heard at this meeting, he must explain what this behavior meant to him, what did he want to get or gain from this behavior.
“I play football, my mother barely pays GEL150. My boots are worn out. I can’t go there with torn boots. It’s a championship soon, and I wanted to save money.”
Let’s take a look at this process and its benefits:
Crime is defined as damage to a person or society (Giorgi realizes that the other party has suffered not only material but also moral damage);
- The focus is on solving the problem and correcting the damage (after hearing the victim’s story, Giorgi is charged to do something to rectify the situation);
- The rights and needs of the victim are in the center of the attention, she has the opportunity to openly express her feelings and thus helps the juvenile to realize the fault;
- The process helps the offender to become empathetic towards the victim, parents, and others, awakens in him a feeling of remorse, which is overcome by appropriate actions;
- A minor becomes accountable, which means taking responsibility, apologizing, and helping to correct the damage.
The opening of a node for the diversion and mediation program are the obligations that the adolescent undertakes and signs in an agreement with the participants of the process, i.e. assumes responsibility.
Giorgi must visit a retired woman every day for 6 months, greet her and collect the so-called Lists of purchases or bills, bring the groceries and present a receipt confirming payment.
And what will be in the final? After 6 months, Giorgi will know for sure what it means to be a lonely elderly person, how hard it is for her to cope from month to month, that GEL20 can often be spent for the subsistence for a week, and that a person’s life is full of emotions, she feels fear, sadness, grief, … and emotional pain leaves much deeper marks.
ქართული ვერსიის სანახავად, გთხოვთ, გადახვიდეთ შემდეგ ლინკზე: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%94%e1%83%a0%e1%83%97%e1%83%98-%e1%83%9b%e1%83%9d%e1%83%96%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%93%e1%83%98%e1%83%a1-%e1%83%aa%e1%83%ae%e1%83%9d%e1%83%95%e1%83%a0%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%90-%e1%83%9d/