The National, 28 March 2012
In this interview, the Regional Director of PRI’s South Caucasus Office discusses the current situation and the evolution of the juvenile justice system in Georgia and advocates for the legislative and penal reforms needed in the country. Moreover, she highlights the positive effect of best practice on the social reintegration of young people in conflict with the law.
Tsira Chanturia, a lawyer by profession, is currently working as Regional Director for the South Caucasus Regional Office of Penal Reform International (PRI). She has worked for PRI for over seven years managing various projects and been engaged in contributing to the criminal justice reforms in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The issues covered by her work have included targeting the development of independent public oversight monitoring mechanisms in prisons, torture prevention, as well as the provision of rehabilitation and re-socialisation schemes for prisoners and probationers, promotion of alternatives to imprisonment, development of rehabilitation and diversion schemes for juvenile offenders, etc. Tsira has been involved in the cooperation with the civil society in the South Caucasus Region, policy discussions with the authorities, provision of expertise, etc.
Please could you give us a brief introduction to your activities in relation to juvenile justice?
Juvenile justice is one of PRI’s (Penal Reform International) main areas of focus. PRI believes that children should only be incarcerated as a last resort and promotes juvenile justice systems that are compliant with international standards.
PRI is a member of the Juvenile Justice Working Group and contributes to policy discussions about juvenile justice in Georgia. It contributed to the government’s juvenile justice reform strategy and action plan which in 2009 was adopted by Presidential Decree.
From 2007-2008 PRI actively lobbied against the government’s plans to reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12. PRI raised its concerns in discussions with government authorities and together with other organisations participated in joint press conferences about the issue. Civil society organisations were mobilised by PRI to appeal to the President of Georgia and express their profound concerns and urge for relevant legislative amendments to be repealed.
For three years (2006-2009) PRI worked with the Norwegian Mission of Rule of Law Advisers to Georgia (NORLAG) on projects to rehabilitate and re-socialise juvenile prisoners and probationers. Within the scope of the small grants project a number of vocational training courses (enamel production, language training courses, computer classes, car repair workshops, hairdressing, cooking, etc) were provided for juvenile inmates and probationers. Support was given, to those who wanted to continue their education, with university entrance exams preparation. Illiterate juvenile offenders attended literacy and numeracy courses.
Psychological counselling and psycho-social rehabilitation (including group and individual therapy, as well as art-therapy courses) were provided.
The programme equipped young people in prison and on probation with essential life skills. At the time the importance of such personal development and re-socialisation schemes was not understood or resourced by government authorities.
The programme raised awareness of the crucial need for rehabilitation and re-socialisation as part of prison and probation sentences. As a result of this the project authorities finally understood the special needs of juveniles.
From 2008 to May 2010 PRI and UNICEF were called upon by the Georgian government to develop policies and rehabilitative schemes for children in conflict with the law. In three cities new support services for juveniles sentenced by the courts to terms of probation were established.
The services enabled the needs of children to be identified and addressed the factors contributing to their offending behaviour in accordance with international standards. Legal assistance to children in conflict with the law was also made available.
The project promoted effective community-based alternatives to incarceration and improved social reintegration through work with the family and local community. It served as a model to the government and demonstrated innovative ways of preventing reoffending behaviour.
Since the independence of Georgia, in 1991, how has the juvenile justice system developed? What are the main evolutions?
Georgia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, since when it has been subject to review by the Committee three times. Recommendations provided by the Committee with regards to the development of a juvenile justice system in Georgia have benefited the country.
The Committee recommended that all professionals involved with the juvenile justice system are trained on relevant international standards; consider imprisonment only as a measure of last resort for the shortest possible period of time; protect the rights of children deprived of their liberty and monitor their conditions of detention; and ensure that children remain in regular contact with their families while in the juvenile justice system.
In order to prevent crime the Committee recommended taking a holistic approach to address social factors of juvenile delinquency and support children at risk at an early stage by using alternative measures to detention (such as diversion, probation, counselling, community service as appropriate). Providing children with legal assistance and with basic services (such as schooling and healthcare) were among other recommendations made.
As a result of the work of organisations like PRI, authorities now recognise the need to establish a juvenile justice system that is in the best interests of the child. The government’s Criminal Justice Reform Strategy and Action Plan (adopted in 2009) include sections on juvenile justice. In these documents the government commits to: establishing preventive programmes targeting juvenile delinquency; ensuring fair trial guarantees for juvenile offenders; promoting increased use of alternatives to prosecution and imprisonment; piloting and implementing re-integration schemes for juvenile prisoners; employing a skilled workforce and developing comprehensive data collection systems.
Criminal legislation requires all personnel in the criminal justice system dealing with juveniles to receive special training on children’s rights, child psychology and pedagogy. PRI has provided training workshops for police officers, judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers, prison personnel and probation officers working with juveniles.
Criminal and penal legislation provides for more human and humble conditions for minors (including more lenient sentences, better conditions of detention, more entitlements in custody, etc) compared to adults, although there are no separate laws regulating the treatment of juveniles.
For years many civil society NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have provided rehabilitation, re-socialisation, consultancy or advocacy services for juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system.
International and European standards concerning children in the criminal justice system have been promoted to government authorities dealing with children by international and local organisations including by PRI.
An emerging initiative to divert children from the criminal justice system is for prosecutors to exercise their discretionary power not to lead criminal proceedings. This concept has been elaborated by the Ministry of Justice and some legislative amendments envisioning the implementation of diversion and elements of restorative justice are being reviewed in parliament to enable the diversion to take effect.
What is the current situation of minors in Georgia? What are the consequences on children’s lives of the socio-economic situation and the armed conflict with Russia, which took place in 2008?
The difficult socio-economic situation in the country greatly affects children and their families. Children from poor backgrounds often lack basic commodities, such as food, clothing and school books. Many of their essential educational and healthcare needs are not met due to their parents’ destitution.
The armed conflict with Russia in 2008 resulted in the displacement of 33,360 children, most of whom have never been able to return home. These children are currently living in temporary settlements provided by the authorities and are given assistance by local and international organisations. The living conditions are poor and access to healthcare and education are limited.
The hard socio-economic situation has had a considerable impact on crimes committed by children. Most of the crimes they commit are property crimes (including theft, burglary, etc) as demonstrated by official statistics.
What were the main features of the juvenile justice system in Georgia before the partnership project with UNICEF and the European Union called “Reform Options for the Penitentiary and Probation Systems for Convicted Child Offenders in Georgia”? What measures were implemented in order to deal with juveniles in conflict with the law? What outcomes and developments have resulted from this project of partnership?
The Government of Georgia and UNICEF with the financial support of the European Union are implementing a two-year project (2009-2010) entitled Reform Options for the Penitentiary and Probation Systems for Convicted Child Offenders in Georgia.
The project was dictated by the need in Georgia to establish a juvenile justice system that would focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of children in conflict with the law. It aims to prevent children being criminalised unnecessarily, to create programmes of prevention and diversion, and to ensure that personnel dealing with juveniles are adequately trained.
Overall objectives of the project include:
– To contribute to the reform of the juvenile justice system in Georgia and to improve the penitentiary and probation systems for convicted child offenders.
– To introduce reintegration-focused penitentiary and probation systems by developing individual reintegration planning and reintegration programmes so that child offenders move smoothly from the penitentiary system to the probation system.
The juvenile justice system in Georgia, including penitentiary and probation services, was in need of more child-sensitive approaches and better safeguards for the protection of children’s rights (right to information, right to participation, right to education, etc.). There were no systemic effective and streamlined reintegration programmes and activities (except for a few initiatives by different NGOs) based on individual sentence planning and needs assessments.
Cooperation between the relevant penitentiary and probation systems for children was not effective. The application of conditional early release was irregular and there no possibility of changing conditional sentences existed. Prison and probation officers dealing with children did not have adequate or sufficient training on children’s issues.
The project aims to address the need to promoting policy and legislative amendments and raise awareness about juvenile justice issues. Roundtables on juvenile justice reforms and necessary legislative amendments will be organised.
The project is still under way although some of the planned activities have already been carried out; including training, work on individual sentence planning, and the provision of re-socialisation activities for juveniles.
For more information, please consult UNICEF’s Office in Georgia.
What is the age of criminal responsibility and how are young adults classified by criminal legislation in Georgia?
As of 23 February 2010 the minimum age of criminal responsibility has been reinstated back to 14 years (from 12 years, following amendments to the Criminal Code in 2008).
Criminal legislation only differentiates between juveniles (age group of 14-17) and adult offenders; the term ‘young adult’ does not exist within the system. As soon as young people turn 18 they are treated as adults. One exception is provided in penal legislation; it states that young prisoners up to the age of 20 years can remain in prison establishments for juveniles for educational and other purposes. In reality this is rarely the case due to prison overcrowding.
What is the tendency of juvenile delinquency in Georgia? Could you please provide us with data?
Data shows that juvenile delinquency figures have been stable for the past few years. Theft and other offences against property are the most common crimes committed by juveniles.
In 2009, 768 crimes were committed by juveniles (accounting for 1.5 % of the overall crime rate in the country). Of these crimes juveniles aged between 12-14 years committed 32 crimes (4.2 %). Out of 768 cases 69 are ranked as particularly grave crimes (8.9%), 323 grave crimes (42.1%), and 376 less grave crimes (48.9%). Theft accounted for 47.9% of all committed crimes.
In 2008, 54 (7.2 %) particularly grave crimes were committed by juveniles, grave crimes amounted to 249 (33.4%), and less grave crimes to 443 (59.4 %).
In 2007 there were 798 reported crimes committed by juveniles. Theft accounted for 52 % of all cases (8.3 % armed robbery, burglary 6.4 %, hooliganism 4.1 %, etc).
In 2006, the number of registered crimes committed by juveniles was 997 and 755 in 2005.
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
755 997 798 746 768
The source of statistical data is the Office of Chief Prosecutor of Georgia www.justice.gov.ge.
What is the situation of children deprived of their liberty as a result of a prison sentence or for being placed in pre-trial detention?
As of 1 June 2010, the number of children in prison custody amounted to 234. 194 were convicted (including five females) and 40 were in pre-trial detention.
The official maximum capacity of the Juvenile Correctional Institution (also referred to as the Juvenile Colony) is 164 juveniles. At the beginning of June 2010 the colony reached its limit.
The Law on Imprisonment of Georgia states 3.5 square metres is to be allocated to each juvenile prisoner (in reality not always upheld due to occasional overcrowding). While convicted juvenile males are held in an institution separate to adult males, juvenile females are held on the same premises as women prisoners. However, their living quarters are isolated. Juveniles in remand custody are held in pre-trial detention prisons, in cells isolated from adult inmates.
Convicted juveniles have access to education; school exists at the juvenile colony for young males. Boys attend school five days a week. An agreement has been established between the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance and the Ministry of Education to bring the standard of education and curricula in prison closer to the standard in state schools.
Vocational training courses, including computer classes, enamel workshops are provided in colonies. An Art-therapy studio operated by a local NGO, Empathy, uses clay modelling as a therapy for children. Often sale-exhibitions of works by juveniles are organised.
Two organisations – GCRT (Georgian Centre for the Psycho-social and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims) and GIP (Global Initiative on Psychiatry) implement an EU-funded project entitled “Ensuring Access to Sustainable Development for Juvenile Convicts through an Issue Based Inter-Sectoral Cooperation”. The overall objective of the project is to improve the conditions of the most vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged youth in Georgia.
For more information you can see at www.gcrt.ge.
Unfortunately, access to education for juveniles in remand prisons is still limited. Once a young person gets into remand custody, s/he is unable to continue attending classes or benefit from vocational training courses. Some NGOs such as PRI have provided training courses to pre-trial juveniles such as literacy and numeracy training courses in Batumi prison and computer training courses in Zugdidi prison. PRI was instrumental in advocating for educational and rehabilitation activities for juveniles in remand custody. Many local NGOs have been provided with small grants and guided by PRI to undertake these activities.
Which kind of measures or sanctions can be imposed by a court to a minor offender? Does legislation provide diversion measures alternative to prison sentences?
According to the Criminal Code of Georgia the following sanctions can be applied to a juvenile offender: fine, community service, deprivation of the right to pursue a particular occupation, correctional labour, restriction of liberty, deprivation of liberty (up to a maximum of 10 years for juveniles aged 14-15 years, and up to a maximum of 15 years for juveniles aged 16-17 years).
As far as non-custodial alternatives are concerned the court can also impose a suspended sentence (probation) on juveniles for minor offences.
Legislation envisions the use of educational measures of coercion with regard to only juveniles. These measures include: warning, placement under supervision, imposition of an obligation to rectify the harm inflicted, restriction on behaviour, and placement under a special educational or treatment institution. These measures are however rarely used in practice.
Recent amendments to the criminal procedural legislation envision the possibility for a prosecutor to exercise a discretionary power not to start criminal proceedings or not to resume them with regard to a juvenile, if there are no public interests involved. There are preparations under way to attach diversion and mediation schemes for juveniles to this prosecutorial discretionary power. PRI is providing guidance to the process in accordance with relevant international standards. It is hoped that this initiative will take into account human rights and legal safeguards for juveniles in the process of their diversion from the criminal justice system.
Which policy strategies have been adopted by the past and present governments in order to prevent juvenile delinquency?
Up until the end of 2006 the police had special units called Inspections of Minors (IOMs) which were responsible for preventive work with children (meeting with children, working with schools, keeping an eye on truancy, meeting with parents and behavioural management of children, etc). The IOMs were abolished at the end of 2006 as part of police reform.
There was little focus on the development of preventive services in Georgia up until recently. The national Plan of Action for Children 2003 – 2007 noted the lack of attention paid to prevention programmes and proposed the introduction of a system of ‘informal justice’, including family group conferences and restorative justice programmes to address the lack of provision.
A number of small pilot schemes were offered by NGOs to children who had already committed offences, and were under probation. PRI was running these schemes through local NGOs.
The Ministry of Education introduced the so-called ‘Safe School Programme’, into schools. The aim of the programme was to prevent delinquency and truancy.
Various educational programmes run by the state (particularly the Ministry of Education, police, prosecutor’s office) and non-state actors exist which aim to raise children’s awareness of crime and punishment.
Authorities are currently focused on implementing community prosecution schemes in pilot areas across in Georgia. The schemes aim to create better cooperation between the prosecutor’s offices, local communities and relevant stakeholders with the view to strengthen public safety and prevent offending.
As part of the scheme an array of events with be organised: lectures and seminars for young people, local coordination council sessions, social surveys as well as social events aimed at raising public awareness about crime and public safety issues, sanctions, etc
The Ministry of Justice plans to carry out a sociological survey with the support of UNICEF to reveal covert crimes among juveniles, and to address the problems of victimisation and safety-related issues. It plans to develop a number of prevention programmes based on the findings from the survey to reduce deviant and delinquent behaviour among young people.
What kind of reintegration measures are being implemented? Are minors in detention provided with education and professional training activities?
Convicted minors in juvenile correctional institutions are provided with school classes, as well as some vocational training courses (mainly run by non-governmental civil society organisations). For more details, please refer to the section above on juveniles in prison custody. There is a work under way to develop individual sentence planning for juvenile prisoners and probationers.
What resources are available for providing assistance to youths with psychological and mental-health needs in Georgia (meaning both minors living with increased risk factors and actual offenders)? Are there officially any specific units for this target group?
Juvenile offenders in custody and on probation who have mental health needs have limited access to psychologists or mental healthcare. The juvenile colony has no psychologists among its staff and juvenile probationers do not get any psychosocial care unless included in projects run by non-governmental civil society organisations. GCRT a local organisation provides some psychological counselling.