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 imprisonment, the deprivation of liberty is connected to the restriction of personal space, changes in the social role, psychological and emotional state of the person. Prison environment for a prisoner is loss of a free choice, an everyday stigma, a permanent mask in a fear not to be oppressed; s/he must follow the strict rules, s/he must survive… Under such circumstances, it is immensely difficult to keep the hope of building the future, to have motivation to continue one’s life, and it requires an enormous effort, internal strength, support of the family and the society, and the possibility of making steps, which would be directed towards building the freedom even in the conditions of penitentiary stress.
What is necessary for the re-socialization and reintegration of the prisoner into the society? The meaning of these terms is generally clear, but in most cases even in our perception they are vague, since the implementation of these declared actions are often fragmentary, formal and unsystematic in our country.
Although the state agencies as well as the penitentiary establishments are implementing special programs in this direction, research studies are undertaken by different NGOs and there are special centres, the general public knows very little about it; in the long run, the results of the implementation of these programs (educational, training programs, vocational training courses, etc.), in which the prisoners should participate during their imprisonment, are not clear for them. However, the hope for such results or the prospect are often not seen outside the prison either.
The rehabilitation process should be primarily based on treating prisoners with dignity. It is necessary to establish a relationship with a person convicted of an offense on this basis and based on this shall s/he begin to realize and comprehend his own guilt. However, the remorse comes later through personal efforts and the help and support of a psychologist, social service of the penitentiary establishment and the family. The prisoners who are left on their own consider themselves only as victims, and this kind of a “protective” faith, which is largely developed by the penitentiary stress, blocks the feeling of remorse in offenders. The perception of a human being as a person and appropriate treatment in the detention conditions creates greater possibilities for contact with internal environment and the outside world and the prospect of rehabilitation.
The “previous life” of prisoners greatly affects their physical and psychological situation in the penitentiary establishment. These people are mostly from poor, undependable families. They already carry a lot of social and health-related problems… they have lack of education, etc.
The research studies in Europe (e.g., Great Britain) show that health of prisoners is considered to be the primary requirement for their rehabilitation and further re-socialization. The health-related issues include general healthcare, mental, reproductive problems, treatment of illnesses caused by violence, as well as sexual harassment, special dietary needs for some convicted persons, their planned and symptomatic treatment, provision of physical activities, etc.
All the listed directions must be based on the preliminarily elaborated standards that should be developed considering the peculiarities of the environment in a penitentiary establishment, current and previous health conditions and needs of the prisoners. Such conditions are difficult for people with chronic illnesses, which are mainly treated in prisons, if acute symptoms are revealed, and not systematically. The return of a healthy citizen is one of the aspects of rehabilitation and, therefore, this requires special attention from the state bodies.
In this regard, special attention should be given to women’s gender-specific problems. Throughout our long working experience with prisoners, the whole set of issues, related to the parental rights of the mothers, were identified. As you know, our society is strict and less forgiving, in general, towards offenders, especially mother offenders.
Stereotypes like “It is better if a child has no mother than such a mother”, “Why should a child visit the mother in a prison?”, “It is better if a child forgets such a mother” and others – damage both the mother and the child; One of the most important links of the chain in the public life is detached, there is no prospect of future relations. In this situation, the social services of the prison and the municipality and the psychologists carry a special role. They should work with the mothers, as well as with their children and prisoners’ families.
Those convicted for murder are considered to be special category of prisoners. A complicated spectrum of psychological, social, mental and other problems is shown in the history of pregnant women convicted for murder. Imagine a situation when a woman killed a husband or a partner and cannot accept or love a child, she had with them, possibly as a result of violent or abusive relationship. On one hand, there is the depressing environment of the prison, on the other hand, a grave feeling of guilt attributed with fear or unacceptability of existing or future relationship with the child. How should this relationship be restored or exist? Psychological assistance is especially important in such cases; the purposeful work of social workers for the return of each such person is difficult and long. A separate space allocated for mothers and children (up to three years old), a building in which the conditions of the fully-fledged life of the mothers and children are observed, is a very special and peaceful space in the penitentiary establishment. However, the difficulty is more of a different type: 3-year-old children are separated from mothers. This, in some cases, is tragically perceived by the parent and is also stressful for the baby. The logic is that the child should not grow in prison, but if otherwise it causes irreparable damage, then the matter should be decided particularly. A completely new initiative to have a nanny working in such a space deserves a praise. The main task of a nanny is to create an emotional connection between the mother prisoners and their children, how to love their little ones, how to satisfy their various needs, how to become good parents, so that later these little humans do not lose their main human support and that they have trust towards the society and can live with self-respect and dignity.
One of the most serious cases is the crime committed as a result of domestic violence, where the child is involved, we had such a case: one of the homeless boys whose mother killed the abusive father. This boy would not visit his mother in prison. With the help and special efforts of a psychologist he restored this broken relationship. Mother was released from prison and died in a tragic incident. Her son, who now lives a well-established life, often says that if he had not made this step, he would regret throughout his entire life that he could not forgive his mother and communicate with her. Such vital steps are unifying the families and in the long run, the society itself.
These issues should be more or less regulated by coordinated activities of prison services, relevant ministries and municipalities. In addition, correct perception of the issue by the society plays an important role; these people need an absolvent environment, which is sensitive to their problems, in order to build the future and, in spite of all, build the freedom even in the conditions of detention. For this purpose it is important to have higher awareness, the outside world needs to see the prison from the “inside” and accept the prisoners as members of the society who need special attention and help in solving or at least showing the right path for their next three life issues – empowerment, fight against injustice and life-transformation.
To accumulate social capital, the prisoner should have the perception and motivation of the perspective, for which he must learn, work, and acquire appropriate skills. Often this is prevented by hopelessness and the feeling that the prisoner will not be employed due to his previous conviction. On the other hand, sometimes there is an inadequate expectation, which if not met may cause total exclusion of the former prisoner from the society. In order to solve this problem, coordinated activities of different agencies, psychologists, and especially socially responsible businessmen is necessary. It should be noted that in the penitentiary establishments, special vocational trainings are being conducted for professional growth; prisoners are also selling their own handmade items. This, of course, creates a certain basis for their subsequent life, generates hope that they can also do something, they pride themselves on this with their relatives…
It is a very hard and, in fact, an unsolved issue to ensure the released prisoners with housing. They often have no place to go. Many times, we have heard from prisoners that they will be accommodated by other former prisoners. I have witnessed a case when a confused woman who just came out of prison stood at the prison gate and did not know where to go. It is necessary that the relevant services prepare prisoners for release and, at the same time, the state also prepares itself to receive them.
Georgian and European research studies highlight the necessity of raising motivation among prisoners to return to the society and their future lives. This requires special trainings, special work to ensure that they have a continuous contact with the outside world, to develop social adaptation skills, have information on which body/agency to address in order to file their request or demand, how to build an outside life.
What factors are necessary to be taken into consideration by state bodies, the staff of penitentiary establishments and people who work with prisoners? All the above-mentioned issues need special attention, because this complexity of problems is connected with and determines the whole life of these people – present or future, outside life. First of all, this is the issue of competence and approach of the people who are directly involved with prisoners and their families – social workers and municipalities and representatives of other agencies. Very often their approach is formal, without depth, is not systematic and result-oriented; regular work with and special trainings for these people, with the participation of psychologists, is necessary. Also, it is emphasized in recent research studies that psychologists and other specialists should be more involved in such activities. Complex measures should be taken – social-pedagogical activities to eliminate prisoners’ lack of education to the extent possible.
Generally speaking, one short formula should combine a common effort – security + support, security inside, security outside the prison after release and permanent support.
Such approach should be used to plan and implement the re-socialization process, at the beginning of detention, and to manage the release from prison. This is a human and, at the same time, pragmatic way, since the main purpose of punishment – to comprehend guilt and prevent repeated crime – is reached through these very means.