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Feature Interview: Promoting rehabilitation rather than retribution in criminal justice—Kosovo: Improving Chances Post-Release for Juvenile Detainees

31 August 2020

For decades, the NHC has been assisting the efforts by countries in the Western Balkans to transform their prison regimes from punitive systems to those that pursue the successful reintegration of prisoners into society. These efforts are part of broader criminal justice reforms in the region that are stimulated, in part, by EU accession prospects. The NHC is working together with prison staff and civil society to implement reforms in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia aimed at improving the possibilities for juvenile detainees. NHC partner Nehat Thaçi, Director General of the Kosovo Correctional Service discusses what changes have been implemented, and the importance of prison reform for all parts of society.

What is the current situation of prisons in Kosovo? Why is Kosovo pursuing prison reform? 

The current situation of prisons in Kosovo is better than it was in the past. Many improvements and changes have been made to the physical and legal infrastructure of correctional facilities.

The reforms aim to bring human rights standards in Kosovo prisons closer in line with to those in the EU. Also under consideration are reforms that would incorporate recommendations and requests from various international monitoring mechanisms. These are aimed at addressing challenges or problems facing prisons in Kosovo.

What kind of prison reforms have you worked on with the NHC?

The Kosovo Correctional Service, especially the juvenile Correctional Center in Lipjan, has been working with NHC to improve the regime’s programs for sentenced juveniles, as well as advancing towards their treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Why are these types of reforms important?

They provide more opportunities for juveniles in education, rehabilitation and resocialization programs. They also provide opportunities for the staff who work with juveniles to improve professionally. Through continuous training, they are able to better recognize and assess the juveniles’ needs and requirements. This reduces incidents, increases their safety, improves interactions and self-esteem among the convicts, and creates more opportunities for building a future after release. In addition, the reforms also provide better protection of human rights for sentenced persons.

This reduces incidents, increases their safety, improves interactions and self-esteem among the convicts, and creates more opportunities for building a future after release”

How do these reforms improve situations of detainee? Is there a particular story you’d like to highlight?

There have been cases where detainees have come to understand their mistakes and improve their behaviour or approach towards others. The programs contribute to the juveniles being motivated to work towards improvement of their situation. One particular story is of a convicted juvenile who has managed to start her university studies outside the institution.

Have you had a positive experience working with the NHC? What are the advantages of these types international collaboration projects? 

Collaboration with NHC and similar international projects has many advantages. This makes prison life and activities more dynamic; provides opportunities for contacts and networking; fosters curiosity to pursue standards in line with systems from countries that pursue successful reintegration, through recognition of their values and experiences; enables us to build our capacities and align with these standards through training, research and study visits.

With the NHC we set up an EQUIP program for the staff and juveniles of Lipjan, which continues to be implemented in juvenile labour practice in Lipjan correctional centres. Also, the study visit of Lipjan correctional centre staff to various prisons in the Netherlands in 2014 was a great opportunity to see the implementation of the EQUIP Program in juvenile institutions there.

Why is prison reform important? What do better prisons contribute to society as whole?

Prison reform can have multiple beneficiaries: society and community, family, the juvenile detainee and responsible authorities. These reforms can help increase confidence in public institutions and combat criminality by implementing rehabilitation programs based on individual needs and demands. Also by making prisons more humane through softer sanctions. As a result, it reduces the number that re-offend and return to correctional centres, and gives juveniles in detention the opportunity to build a future by being valuable members of society.