Communication training for the Probation Service in Montenegro
On the 20th and 21st of December, 2016, a training on public outreach and communication took place in Montenegro, within the project ‘Support to the probation service and the system of alternative sanctions in Montenegro’. The Dutch coordinating partners Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the Center for International Legal Cooperation (CILC), in cooperation with the Dutch Probation Service (Reclassering Nederland), organized a two-day workshop with representatives of the Montenegrin Probation service and staff from the Ministry of Justice. The purpose was to put into practice the official strategy for public communication of the Ministry and the Probation Service, and to make specific operational plans.
Purpose of the training
The Probation Service is quite new in the country, and because it is currently growing and dealing with various target groups, it is important to communicate effectively with all audiences. For example, with municipalities that implement community service contracts, public companies, but also the general population, who need to understand the basic nature and benefits of Probation.
Through a series of workshops, practical brainstorming sessions, trainings, and exercises, the group covered many different aspects of public communication. The issue of the central message was the key element of the workshop – how to formulate it, its content, length, form, where and when to express it, to whom, and by which means. At the start of the exercise, the Montenegrin colleagues gave short presentations of their work in the Probation service. The Dutch team then gave their presentation (via Youtube) which lasted less than one minute and used easy-to-understand language, as well as infographics and pictures.
An ensuing half-hour brainstorming exercise identified around 20 possible media tools to express the main message –starting from a press conference, going through articles, blogs, TV presentations, and finally, mouth-to-mouth stories. This was an even better reason for the officials from the Montenegrin Ministry of Justice and the Probation service to think very thoroughly about their central message.
Why a training?
Until recently, all the criminal sentences in Montenegro were either a fine or prison sentence. The common people still have to get used to the fact that, for smaller violations of the law, offenders can repay society through community service. Even though Probation has already started to work well in many places in Montenegro, there is still a lot of stigma attached to this issue. Therefore, clear, effective messages and campaigning about its benefits can be very useful.
Future activities & aims
After this workshop, a small group from the Montenegro Ministry of Justice, including Probation, will go on a study visit to their colleagues in Croatia, who are much further along in the process of implementing Probation and reaching out to the general public.
Montenegro is a candidate country for accession to the European Union and as such needs to fulfill specific criteria concerning human rights, as well as the functioning of the judiciary. Among the recommendations given to Montenegro by the EU are decreasing the prison population and implementing alternative sanctions and conditional sentencing. This project is set up to directly address these issues.