Montenegro’s Probation Success Paves the Way for Others
The NHC has been involved with the development of a probation system in Montenegro since 2014. In 2019, we were able to facilitate a transfer of knowledge from the Montenegrin probation service to a newly established project with the Ukrainian Center of Probation. Here the Montenegrin probation service shared their formula for the calculation of a reasonable caseload for a probation officer with their Ukrainian counterparts. With the NHC as intermediary, the Montenegrin probation service showed that its practice has developed to such extent that is can be an example for other countries with a young probation service.
Being involved in the development of the Montenegrin probation service since 2014, the NHC initiated the project Strengthening the Probation and the System of Alternative Sanctions in Montenegro and Serbia, in 2017. One year after the start, the Montenegrin Probation Service asked if the project could assist in defining how many cases a probation officer could manage while still delivering the required quality. Nataša Radonjić, as the Director General for Criminal Sanctions Enforcement Department of the Ministry of Justice in Montenegro responsible for probation, explains: “The Probation Service of Montenegro has been developing similarly to all young probation services. Following the increase in the confidence of courts in Montenegro to impose the alternative sanctions, mainly community service sentence, the Probation Service was growing. It developed and increased its capacities in terms of staffing. The number of court decisions where enforcement was entrusted to the Probation service, the current number of staff members and the working conditions, definitely asked for a new organizational approach. After being appointed to the position of Director General in 2017, I have invested efforts in establishing better organizational models.”
We all benefited from the system, especially from the aspect of efficiency and organization of the work in the Probation Service“
Essential for the organisation of the Probation Service was the calculation of the maximum caseload for a probation officer. In the framework of the project, the Dutch Probation Service assisted the Probation Service of Montenegro to map out all the tasks of a probation officer and evaluate how much time each task takes on average. The tasks of a probation officer vary from visiting person for interviews to writing reports.
“Having in mind all necessary actions which need to be taken when processing the case, including the field work of the probation officers, it was necessary to reach the level of the objective caseload and equal allocation of the probation cases among probation officers”, says Nataša Radonjić. “A probation officer can now estimate how much time is required for a particular case to be processed. Also, from the aspect of the work organization, it is possible to estimate whether the total number of cases which are being processed is lower or higher than the average number of cases which can be completed within regular working hours. We all benefited from the system, especially from the aspect of efficiency and organization of the work in the Probation Service.”
By the end of 2019, and in a probation project in Ukraine lead by CILC, in which the NHC is a project partner, the Ukrainian Probation Service (Center of Probation) requested how it could calculate the maximum caseload for a probation officer. The Center of Probation wanted use this information to back up its arguments in the budget negotiations with the Ministry of Justice. The exercise for this would be very similar to what the Montenegrin Probation Service had done about a year earlier. Therefore, CILC and the NHC sent the Montenegrin calculation formula to Ukraine to be adapted to fit local circumstances by the Center of Probation.
Both projects aim at increasing the use of probation as an alternative sanction at various stages in criminal proceedings“
The main takeaway of this form of knowledge sharing was the boost in confidence it can give to a country and its system. Montenegro was a learner in the beginning stages of the probation project, but now suddenly had the opportunity to become a trainer. Since this transfer of knowledge, the Probation Service of Montenegro has expressed an increasing interest to be involved on an international level, and to continue both sharing their knowledge and growing further as a newly established probation system country.
Both projects aim at increasing the use of probation as an alternative sanction at various stages in criminal proceedings. The next steps are to realize the probation officer’s capacity to advise before court proceedings on alternative sanctions, in line with the belief that prison sentences are a should remain a matter of last resort. These steps would enable the probation service to be in line with European standards.
The experiences with Montenegro have not only been the catalyst of growth within the probation system but has set a new standard for our Criminal Justice Reform Programme by introducing a new best practice. This outcome would not have been reached by solely relying on current experts, but has been built upon the immediate connection between two countries building a future.
About the NHC
The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) is a non-governmental organization that operates within the OSCE-area. It contributes to dialogue and cooperation between states and civil society in the area of rule of law and human rights. Founded in 1987, the NHC represented Dutch civil society in the Helsinki Process, following the examples of sister Helsinki Committees from across the OSCE area. NHC’s current activities include human rights defence, integrity and accountability, access to justice and criminal justice reform.
Criminal Justice Reform Programme
At the NHC, we believe a criminal justice system focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment is better at contributing to safer societies. Together with local partners, governments and seasoned practitioners from different countries, we aim to facilitate collaboration between different actors in the local justice system. We work on changing criminal justice systems so that offenders are more able to successfully re-enter society and less likely to re-offend; prison staff and probation officers effectively carry out justice, while respecting human rights; governments adopt the most effective policies and practices; and reforms made are systematically implemented.