Capacity needs of the Probation Service in Armenia (Part I: Outlining the Problems)
Establishment of the State Probation Service was long due and on 17 May 2016 the Law on Probation Service was passed in the National Assembly, whereas the Service officially started operating as of 1 September 2016 after adoption of its Statute.
In the beginning of the new 2017 year, the first full year of the work of Probation service, there are various challenges faced by the Service, including in relation to shortage of staff and the need to recruit highly qualified staff as well as lack of capacity building on such issues as risk and needs assessment, case-management, interview skills, skills in dealing with vulnerable groups, especially with juvenile probationers, etc.
The present paper presents a brief compilation of issues raised by the participants of the events organized by CSI and dedicated to the establishment of the Probation Service in Armenia, as well as recommendations proposed by them.
1. Shortage of staff.
1.1. Transition from militarized service to civil service. The Service was established on the basis of the Alternative Sanctions Enforcement Division (hereinafter - ASED) of the Penitentiary Department under the MoJ but as an independent service under the MoJ after piloting period for over 12 months at two of the ASED units. That meant that the Service "inherited" the property and staff table. By November 2016 no new posts were created neither any promises had been made to do so in the nearest future due to budget constraints. This was at odds with the initial intention declared by the MoJ and put down in the Concept Paper on the Establishment of the Probation Service: to have up to 200 probation officers with case-managers having about 50 cases. Already in September 2016 it became clear that the newly established service will face shortage of staff, even with the current system. ASED personnel were uniformed and received some additional benefits for the service. At the same time the Law on Probation envisages that all probation officers shall be civil servants. This meant that if officers of ASED joined the Probation service, they would lose their ranks, opportunities for promotion in the system and social benefits. As a result, in the transition period at least 25% of the ASED staff across the country did not join the Probation Service.
1.2. Requirements for eligibility. Another challenge which some of the acting probation officers faced during the qualification exam in December 2016 are requirements for the posts. Even if the officer in question occupies the post of the head of unit at the moment, he/she may be yet not eligible to apply because of the rules and requirements of having relevant experience as civil servants.
1.3. Need to recruit non-legal professionals. According to the Law, the probation officers are supposed to invest significant efforts in rehabilitation of probationers. However, the overwhelming majority of the current staff have legal background and lack skills to deal with cases in the expected manner. Therefore, recruitment of professional social workers and psychologists is key to ensure that aims of the service are achieved. The law proposes engagement of volunteers, however, the majority of the participants expressed concerns about capacity of volunteers and efficiency of this approach to building capacity of the staff.
2. New work culture. On numerous occasions it was stressed by the representatives of the MoJ that they expect the staff of the Probation Service to change their approaches in work with probationers leaving "punitive only" role in the past. They are rather expected to treat the probationers under their supervision by combining supervision with real efforts to assist the probationer to meet identified needs with a view to facilitate re-socialization of offenders. This will take some time as the majority of the officers at the moment have background of working in the penitentiary service. If new staff, including psychologists and social workers are not recruited shortly, it would be quite hard to achieve change of culture and mentality of the officers.
3. Capacity needs to carry out functions vested with the Service by law. According to the Law on Probation, the officers are supposed to do risk and needs assessment, then based on the results compile a supervision plan and propose rehabilitation programme to tackle identified needs. Apart from that, in certain cases the probation officers (it is not specified, all or some) will have to carry out victim-offender mediation. All these functions are new to the entire staff. However, at the moment, the MoJ have not proposed capacity building activities to ensure that the staff is capable to carry out their main functions. Besides that, the Law stipulates that juvenile probationers will need special treatment taking into account their vulnerability. Again, no training has been delivered to strengthen the skills of the officers. It is important at least for the beginning to assign focal points for mediation and dealing with juveniles and all of them need to be trained. In addition, the Service needs working tools. The efforts of CSI to assist the Service in development of working tools are the topic of another paper.
4. Technical capacity. According to the Law, the Service is supposed to maintain its own database. To this end, it is necessary to ensure that all units across the country are properly equipped to be able to update database, to use computer-based assessment forms, including risk and needs assessment tools. At the moment the issue of enhancing the technical capacity of the Service has not been addressed by the MoJ. Apart from that, the Service is supposed to enforce electronic monitoring, whereas the equipment is rented for a short period with the support of the Council of Europe, however no funding is envisaged for 2017 in the budget to either continue renting the equipment or to purchase it. Enforcement of electronic monitoring is indispensible to reverse the practice of overuse of pre-trial detention and it is very important to secure funds to maintain it.
5. Awareness raising. As the Service is new, there is lack of awareness about its role and functions. There is a need to raise awareness among justice sector professionals, social services, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders about the Service and ensure cooperation, especially in the area of service-delivery. The use of media and publication of materials were mentioned as the way to increase awareness.
 Law on Probation Service, ՀՕ-48-Ն, adopted by the National Assembly on 17 May 2016, signed by the President on 23 May 2016, entered into force on 4 June 2016, available in Armenian at www.arlis.am
 Statute of the Probation Service, adopted by the Government of the Republic of Armenia N 742-Ն, adopted on 14 June 2016, entered into force on 1 September 2016, available in Armenian at www.arlis.am
 See Protocol Decision N 19-9 of the Government of the Republic of Armenia on 30 April 2015 "On the approval of the Concept Note on establishing Probation Service in Armenia", available in Armenian at http://www.moj.am/storage/files/legal_acts/legal_acts_1890918480991_legal_acts_9158471282251_naxagic_1_.pdf