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Effective Rehabilitation through Education

09 February 2022

How One Juvenile Offender’s Path to Higher Education Paved the Way for Many

The Story of Mirlinda* from Kosovo

“When something does not exist you cannot imagine that it ever would, I know that for minors they did not really think they could study until Mirlinda – she laid the foundation.” – Rita Selimi, PHD Student, University of Prishtina / University of Amsterdam.

As part of NHC’s work on creating a safe and rehabilitative prison environment for juveniles in conflict with the law in Kosovo, our project saw our paths cross with Mirlinda*. Mirlinda’s story is a truly inspiring one, with her courage and resilience resulting in the creation of educational possibilities that would not only affect her own rehabilitation journey, but also those of others. Learn more about the background to her story here.

Note: We are happy to share that since conducting this interview with Rita, Mirlinda was conditionally released from the juvenile facility in Kosovo. If you want to know how to support her, stay until the end of this story.

Mirlinda’s story

Mirlinda is currently in her third year of university, studying for a degree in Law and Criminology, while serving a sentence at the juvenile facility in Kosovo. She visits the university once a month (as allowed by her sentence), and supplements her studies through tutoring by Rita Selimi, a PhD student at Prishtina University / the University of Amsterdam. Mirlinda and Rita were brought together by Professor Peer van der Helm (as part of the NHC’s and Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims’ project, mentioned above). The NHC met with Rita to learn more about her work on the use of the social climate tool in juvenile detention centres in Kosovo, as well as the story of Mirlinda and her role in changing the landscape of education possibilities available to incarcerated minors in Kosovo.

Continued education for juvenile offenders

When Professor van der Helm together with professor Njomza Llullaku from University of Prishtina visited the correctional facility in Kosovo in 2019, Mirlinda approached him:

“I would like to study, do the people in Netherlands study while they are in prison, she asked. He said yes, they can do that. For Mirlinda, that was a surprise”– Rita Selimi

Rita went on to explain:

“We enrolled Mirlinda in a private university because she wanted to study law with a specific focus on criminology, and that is only offered at private universities. We wanted to be fair with the university and told them that the student could not come every day as she is in a correctional facility.”

While at first it seemed that Mirlinda would enrol without any problems, the university soon started to backtrack. When Rita visited in order to complete the enrolment, she recalls it seemed as though the university tried to find reasons to not make it possible: “They had a few hesitations, however, a lot of effort was put in to get Mirlinda enrolled, and we succeeded.” Rita noted that her successes have led to Mirlinda becoming a sensation in correctional facilities across Kosovo, with almost everyone knowing her name.

A knock on effect

Mirlinda’s case laid the foundation for education opportunities for other incarcerated minors, including two of Rita’s tutees, boys aged 19 and 20 who are also working towards gaining a higher education degree while in prison. Rita shared with pride that “they are doing a very good job, what I like is that I can see their progress over time.”

One of the boys that Rita is tutoring also successfully applied for an internship. He shared with the organization that he was currently in a correctional facility, and was only able to leave the premises three days a month. The organization responded positively, and Rita is convinced that it is situations like this that help change societal perceptions.

“Society has a specific image in mind when it comes to an incarcerated minor, but when they see a young, very motivated person with good grades, their perceptions are challenged, for the benefit of everyone.”

Education for effective rehabilitation

For incarcerated juveniles in Kosovo, often the only form of education available was vocational training, and compulsory education for children of high school age. However, for longer-term residents of juvenile institution, not being able to formulate a concrete plan or vision of what they can do with what they have learnt was very demotivating. Following Mirlinda’s success story, many now feel like they have options. Rita reflects: “when you interview the minors that are studying, you can see that they have a very concrete plan on what they want to do.”

It is clear that education offers these children a chance at effective rehabilitation through changing societal perceptions of those incarcerated. Rita herself outlined this as the focus for her research:

“…with my PhD I want to shape the way that Kosovo perceives these different and vulnerable groups in society. I would like to know that my work has had a positive impact on these groups, and the way society views them.”

Conditional release, now what?

Mirlinda was conditionally released from the juvenile facility in Kosovo at the end of 2021. However, the lack of after release care programs makes her situation challenging. In order to support her integration into society, a crowdfunding action was created, allowing all of us to have an impact on her social integration and support her through her journey. If you want to know more and donate, please click here.

* Mirlinda is not the minor’s real name. It was changed for the purposes of this story.

About the Criminal Justice Reform Programme

We believe a criminal justice system focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment is better at contributing to safer societies. The Criminal Justice Programme promotes and supports criminal justice reform that works to ensure offenders are able to successfully re-enter society and do not re-offend. By providing tools and trainings to prison staff or probation officers, we help improve the implementation of justice. By bringing together high-level officials, policy experts, and seasoned practitioners from different countries, we contribute to the development of the most effective policies and practices. We also promote collaboration between different actors in the justice system, such as judges, prosecutors, probation, prison, and civil society organisations to ensure reforms pursued are effectively implemented throughout the entire system