Prisons should not only isolate people but also rehabilitate them
Lack of risk and needs assessment prevented individual sentence planning and development of rehabilitation programme based on identified risks and needs. All this results in low effectiveness of imprisonment and does not serve the purposes of punishment.
On 27 November 2015 CSI with the support of the Penal Reform International in the frames of the UNDEF funded project and British Embassy in Yerevan organized a round table on “Impact of gradual change of isolation regime for inmates on early conditional release in Armenia”. Over 30 participants representing relevant state bodies, local NGOs and international organizations attended the event.
The issue of early conditional release and the inefficiency of the existing mechanism continue to be one of the major challenges faced by the Armenian penal system. The event was aimed to discuss the existing challenges and draw attention of the relevant parties on the need to gradually prepare inmates for release and reintegration into society by offering them rehabilitation programs while in prison in contrast to simply deciding on the spot whether it was the time to release or not.
Mr. Arman Danielyan, CSI Director, emphasized that the Armenian justice system continued to be punitive and lacked restorative component. Prison authorities while enforcing custodial sentences focus only on ensuring order and preventing escapes but fail to work with prisoners, identify their individual risks and criminogenic needs and do not offer individually tailored sentence plans and rehabilitation programs.
The representative of the Armenian Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Mr. Bagrat Ghazinyan presented the reforms launched by the MoJ in the area of criminal justice, including prison reform.
The next speaker, Ms. Anna Melikyan, CSI’s lawyer, presented the current legal framework and practice related to classification of prisoners, change of their security regimes and preparation for release. She also spoke about existing gaps in early release system, assessment mechanisms and decision-making process. She noted that according to the official statistics, in the recent years less than 4% of prisoners eligible for early release were granted release on parole. In case of the rest of inmates they are reportedly refused release because they have not been rehabilitated yet, however no rehabilitation programmes are offered and no mechanism is available to assess to what extent they have been rehabilitated.
The speaker emphasized that lack of risk and needs assessment prevented individual sentence planning and development of rehabilitation programme based on identified risks and needs. All this results in low effectiveness of imprisonment and does not serve the purposes of punishment.
The British expert on prison management Mr. Philip Taylor presented the British experience on classification of prisoners and their preparation for release. He emphasized that the prison authorities while enforcing a prison sentence had primarily two objectives: to ensure order and compliance of inmates with the prison regime as well as public safety. He emphasized that in order to ensure public safety prison authorities had to do their best to rehabilitate inmates to reduce reoffending rate and facilitate reintegration of offenders into society. For that end, the decision makers need to be equipped with relevant assessment tools and such assessment shall be done regularly within reasonable time.
During the event experience of other states in classification of prisoners, their assessment and offering rehabilitation programmes was presented.
The presentations generated vivid discussion among the participants and prompted exchange of opinions on how best to improve the situation in Armenia.