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Improving the Social Climate of Kosovo’s Juvenile Centers

09 May 2022

“What the project tries to build on is the idea that correctional facilities should give a voice to the minors who live there, and see them as persons who have needs, needs which should be taken seriously.” – Rita Selimi, PhD Student, University of Amsterdam.

Rita Selimi has been working on the topic of rehabilitative justice in Kosovo for several years now; working for change against prejudice that still exists towards (ex) offenders in many societies. Together with Professor Peer van der Helm of the University of Amsterdam and Hoogschool Leiden, she has been working with the NHC as part of our collaborative prison reform project  in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia. The project focuses on creating a prison environment that fosters successful reintegration into society for incarcerated juveniles.

The NHC sat down with Selimi to understand more about her work on changing perceptions towards rehabilitative justice, as well as measuring and understanding the importance of social climate in juvenile centers.

The social climate tool in rehabilitative justice

In order to successfully measure the needs of juveniles, and to ensure that prison provides a safe, stimulating and rehabilitative environment, the social climate tool was developed. Selimi explained that she uses the social climate tool in her daily work to “measure the living and educational climate within prisons, as the tool sort of gives a voice to the minors.” She went on to explain that the instrument has four scales:

  1. Growth
  2. Repression
  3. Atmosphere
  4. Support

The tool itself is a questionnaire consisting of 36 questions that measures how the minors rate the aforementioned scales. Selimi explained that for measuring growth, for example, “we look at whether [the juvenile offenders] feel that […] they are working towards personal growth or […] that they are just waiting out the punishment.”

The answers to the questionnaire indicate whether a positive climate exists in a closed institution, which is indicative of better emotional wellbeing of minors. Selimi went on to share that “studies show that if you are in a positive climate while in prison, there is a much lower chance of recidivism, whereas if the climate is negative, a return to prison is far more likely for the offender, following release.”

Continuing the work during COVID-19

Although the minors fill out the questionnaire themselves, they are often supported in this process, as “some have trouble reading, or do not understand some terms.” However, COVID-19 measures have made external support difficult in closed institutions, meaning that also in this case, the minors were often left to their own devices when using the tool.

A lasting impact

“Laying the foundation for long term impact is what I think professor van der Helm and this project did very well. I know this specific project will eventually end in Kosovo, but I hope incarcerated juveniles will feel the impact of introducing processes such as the social impact tool in closed institutions for long after – ultimately of course resulting in lower recidivism rates, and safer societies. This study helped us in Kosovo understand in-depth how minors perceive the climate and what can be done to have a better rehabilitative approach” – Rita Selimi

The impact is twofold, the first being data and the second the lasting change that was brought about for the minors themselves:

  1. With regard to data, Selimi explained that “prior to this project there was not a major focus on collecting data. So one of the greatest impacts of the project is that right now the staff in the correctional facilities have empirically based feedback on the situation, knowing what they are doing well, as well as where they can improve, backed by evidence. It also simultaneously laid the foundation for measuring other impacts of the data.”
  2. Selimi relayed to us that “usually projects come and go,” but that the story of Professor van der Helm and Mirlinda, the first incarcerated minor to go into higher education while still imprisoned in Kosovo, truly laid the foundation for lasting change. Find out more about Mirlinda and the impact of her story on the educational possibilities of other incarcerated minors here.

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.