Introduction of Correctional and Therapeutical Programmes for Work with Juvenile Offenders at the Reformatory in Boychinovtsi, Bulgaria
The Reformatory of Boychinovtsi is the only closed institution for boys in Bulgaria. In 2008, the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice expressed the need for specialised therapeutical programmes for the young offenders institutionalised there. Recidivism is high in Bulgaria, so the authorities had undertaken several projects in the preceding years to improve the effectiveness of its care for institutionalised youth, but these often lacked a pedagogical approach.
The project ‘Introduction of Correctional and Therapeutical Programmes for Work with Juvenile Offenders at the Reformatory in the Town of Boychinovtsi’ was conceived to address this need. As a new EU member state, Bulgaria can benefit from the expertise of older member states, such as the Netherlands. A main reason for the Dutch side to get involved was also to establish a sustainable relationship between the Dutch and Bulgarian prison services, which would facilitate further cooperation on other issues in the future.
Together with the Dutch Correctional Institutions Agency (Dienst Justitiele Inrichtingen), research was carried out to find out which existing therapeutic programmes would be useful to the Reformatory in Boychinovtsi. This resulted in a training for the staff and the youth and the implementation of the EQUIP programme. EQUIP is an intervention method for working with antisocial or behaviour disordered adolescents, which includes training in moral judgement, anger management, correction of thinking errors, and social skills. Youth involved in the program participated in two types of group sessions – Equipment Meetings (in which the group leader taught them specific skills) and Mutual Help Meetings (in which the students used the skills they had learned to help each other, while the leader provided coaching). A drug-prevention programme was integrated in the EQUIP sessions to provide more comprehensive care. Study visits to the Netherlands and Bulgaria were organised for professionals working with EQUIP in both countries, to exchange experiences and to get familiar with each other’s after-care systems.
Multiple conferences and seminars were organised to bring the Bulgarian and Dutch actors together. During the seminars, the current after-care situation in Bulgaria was discussed with a diverse group of relevant organisations, including local committees, boarding schools, and NGO’s such as UNICEF Bulgaria and CARITAS Russe. The most important conclusion was that reintegration assistance is often insufficient because of a lack of cooperation between the different organisations in the chain of after-care.
The project was finished on the 17th of June 2011, with a closing conference. Both partners are enthusiastic about their cooperation and intend to continue their cooperation after the project. The implementation of EQUIP in Boychinovtsi showed positive results almost from the start. The institutionalised boys were very receptive to the method. Receiving constructive attention, and the role of coaching and helping others were new to them, and they were visibly motivated by it to participate and their behaviour improved visibly. The Reformatory in Boychinovtsi is now an expertise centre for EQUIP. Furthermore, improving the results in the Reformatory is just a first step towards wider changes for juvenile offenders in Bulgaria.
Funder: Ministry of Foreign Affairs – MPAP
Partners: Bulgarian Ministry of Justice, Reformatory in Boychiovtsi, Netherlands Prison Service (DJI)
Project period: 2009 – 2010