Best practices towards rehabilitative criminal justice in the Western Balkans
From May 16 to 20, 2022, the NHC welcomed representatives from academia, civil society organizations and prison reform experts from Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia to the Netherlands, for a study visit as a part of the “Towards a Safe, Stimulating and Rehabilitative Prison Environment for Children and Juveniles in Conflict with the Law in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia” project. This visit consisted of a series of workshops, presentations, panels and visits to prison facilities, where the participants got to take a closer look at the functioning of the juvenile prison system in the Netherlands, while sharing best practices and experiences related to the reintegration of juveniles from their own contexts.
Short impressions from the study visit
Through the project, the NHC contributes to establishing pedagogical climates in juvenile prisons that facilitate the juveniles’ resocialization and reintegration. In cooperation with the Albanian General Directorate of Prisons, the Kosovo Ministry of Justice/ Kosovo Correctional Centre and the Directorate for Execution of Sanctions of the Macedonian Ministry of Justice, this programme aims to contribute to the reform of the prison system, by training prison staff to provide opportunities, guidance and a stimulating environment to incarcerated youth.
During this visit, the participants got the opportunity to participate in a number of panels, workshops and presentations related to prison reform from Dutch experts. The topics touched upon ranged from the development of juvenile justice in The Netherlands, youth participation in the professionalization and development of penitentiary staff and practices, and opportunities for cooperation between criminal justice chain partners, such as the prison and probation services but also civil society and academia. Likewise, they got the opportunity to visit prison facilities in The Netherlands and get acquainted with the environment that is set up for juveniles in these institutions.
During the study visit, our Communications Manager, Marcela Rilovic sat down with Blerta Doci, Shpendium Sadiku and Agron Iljazi to discuss their main perceptions and takeaways from the study visit, what they plan to implement in their context after the experience and a recap of the advances that have emerged from their cooperation with the NHC over the last 9 years. See below for some video impressions:
Shpendium Sadiku highlights the interactive and practical aspect of the visit, where participants got to see for themselves how prison staff interacts with young incarcerated people in the Netherlands and what are the latest advances regarding prison reform in the region. The aim is to take note of these experiences and adapt them to the national legislation, with the objective of implementing rehabilitative practices, also in juvenile facilities in Kosovo.
As a part of this project, we shared Mirlinda’s* story, a young prisoner who got the opportunity to study criminology during her time in prison: https://www.nhc.nl/juvenile-rehabilitation-help-mirlinda-become-a-lawyer/
The change goes even deeper when these practices are introduced at policy level. It is not about only changing the context of young incarcerated people in certain facilities, but to bring an integral and uniform approach to the prison system as a whole, in order for it to benefit the largest amount of individuals and become a norm in the countries where these important changes are implemented. Reforming training curricula for prison staff is one of the steps that Blerta Doci finds important for development in Albania, in order to not only remediate the current pitfalls, but also to launch a long-term shift in the national prison system towards reintegration, instead of plain punishment.
The Netherlands Helsinki Committee has been advocating for best practices and the implementation of a new way of thinking on incarceration. From our activities, we aim to frame penitentiary institutions not as places to punish criminal behavior and create resentment towards offenders, but in terms of making incarceration an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives, find the resources to be engaged members of society and avoid reoffending after serving their time. Through training the prison staff that comes in contact with the prisoners, and influencing the civil servants that draft the laws and policies of the prison system, a sustainable and significant shift can be made for the people going through the criminal justice system in the targeted countries.
*Name changed to protect identity
 Policy Advisor and Head of Social Affairs Sector at the General Directorate of Prisons in Albania
 Social Worker at a correctional facility in Kosovo
 Project Coordinator and teaching Assistant at the Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Tetova in North Macedonia