The Current State of Human Rights for Perpetrators of Offenses with an Emphasis on the Resocialization of Prisoners

In April 2021, Human Rights House Zagreb (HRHZ) published a report on the current state of human rights for perpetrators of offenses with an emphasis on the resocialization of prisoners. The goal was to get a better understanding of challenges prisoners and relevant stakeholders face when implementing resocialization and to draft recommendations to mitigate these. To this end, the related legal framework was analyzed and interviews with bodies from the criminal justice system, public authorities, independent organizations, and civil society organizations were conducted.

The report found that existing general and special treatment programs pose a good basis for the successful resocialization of prisoners. However, the form of these programs and the rehabilitation process diverge depending on the criminal justice system bodies. This is due to the lack of treatment officers and judicial police in these institutions, which presents the greatest obstacle for successful resocialization. HRHZ thus recommends that recruitment in the criminal justice system is exempt from the restrictions imposed on the recruitment of public servants so that these systematized working positions can be filled. Moreover, it highlights the importance of allowing for the signing of contracts between physicians and prison system institutions to tackle the insufficient number of physicians and psychiatrists.

Throughout the interviews, the significance of work tasks and educational activities for the successful resocialization of prisoners was repeatedly emphasized. However, working positions are often restricted to simple tasks and working opportunities are limited. Additionally, access to primary school education for prisoners is not always given. There is thus a need to invest into working and education activities. What has proven successful in this regard is the cooperation with civil society organizations and outside employers. Therefore, these cooperations should be facilitated and administrative burdens reduced. Furthermore, they should include persons in pretrial detention which at the moment are not allowed to take part in organized activities with other prisoners. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the arrangements with outside institutions were halted. Only in some instances it was possible to continue educational and other activities online. This possibility needs to be expanded and continued in the future to allow for greater flexibility. An example of good practice has been the opportunity for prisoners and their children to meet via video call after rights to prison visits were limited. This video call system should be maintained even after the pandemic for all kinds of visitors. As the preservation of family bonds is a major factor in the success of resocialization processes, visiting procedures for children need to be more flexible and child-friendly areas as well as areas for visits of spouses or extra-marital partners need to be furbished. 

The biggest room for improvement is evident in the postpenal assistance system. After their release, prisoners face many challenges including having to fight stigmas, finding housing and work. This is especially the case for prisoners who were confronted with long-term sentences. At the moment, postpenal assistance services start around three months prior to release. However, interviewed partners stressed that this period is insufficient and that services need to start earlier. Furthermore, to combat recidivism and facilitate social integration, interdepartmental work should be intensified and the exchange of information and know-how between all relevant stakeholders should be fostered.

In conclusion, while treatment programs provide a good basis for resocialization, there is still much work to be done within the prison system. Work and education activities need to be expanded, working positions filled and postpenal services started earlier. Additionally, good practices such as the collaboration with civil society actors and the video call system set up during the pandemic should be extended to ensure the successful resocialization of perpetrators of offenses. 

The entire report is available here.