E. Dobrovolska: the reform will ensure a modern and efficient process of execution of sentences

The Government approved the initiative of the Ministry of Justice to implement the measures of the second stage of the reform of the system of enforcement of sentences. The Prison Department and its subordinate institutions will be reorganised and will make a single legal entity, i.e., the Prison Service of Lithuania. 

The centralisation of the execution of sentences is expected to optimise the available human, financial and material resources, to ensure a more uniform and efficient management of the system, and to improve the resocialization of convicted persons.

„Lithuania must finally reach the standards of Western-style institutions; we can no longer afford to be indecisive. Last week I went on a visit to Latvia where changes in the system are already delivering tangible results across the entire system. It takes time and everyone's commitment; therefore we thank the trade unions for their suggestions, active participation and cooperation. We want remove bureaucratic burdens from officers so that they can devote more time and attention to their direct work with convicts. The resources saved would enable us to provide the staff with decent remuneration and opportunities of next generation professional development," said Minister of Justice Evelina Dobrovolska.

At the same time, a new regulation on sentencing and detention has been drafted in line with current needs and recommendations of international organisations. The regulation extends measures that may help to better motivate convicted persons to make a positive change by reducing their isolation from society and by providing more opportunities to keep contacts with relatives and other persons. The new version of the Penal Enforcement Code also focuses on resocialization, employment and education of convicted persons. 

In the words of the Minister, the measures of strengthening social ties and integrating prisoners into society will include unrestricted meetings with their children, more frequent phone calls to their relatives and more favourable conditions for a speedier transfer of convicted prisoners to open places of detention. It also expands employment opportunities for prisoners by regulating self-employment, encouraging volunteering, and expanding the range of measures that motivate prisoners to change their behaviour.

„We will strive to empower all social partners, especially the non-governmental sector, to increase the employment of convicts, to strengthen non-formal education and to enhance the development of social skills," says E. Dobrovolska.

An increased access to much-needed services such as addiction treatment, psychological assistance, and social services will also improve the quality of resocialization of convicted persons.

At the same time, efforts are made to close various loopholes in the existing regulatory framework, for example by addressing the problem which is particularly acute for the representatives of the penitentiary community where they are not provided with efficient tools to deal with serious or systematic violations of the rules of procedure by prisoners in open colonies. The latter feel they are unpunishable and very often do not return to the open colonies in due time; for this reason a lot of human and institutional resources have to be deployed to search and bring them back to the open colonies. The new Penal Enforcement Code no longer contains these loopholes and serious offenders will no longer be able to continue to be detained in open places of detention; besides, the conditions of their detention will be immediately tightened up.

Ensuring a sustainable development of the dynamic security segment in the penitentiary system, standardising and strengthening other security procedures will efficiently address the problems identified in the recommendations of the European Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It should be noted that there are plans to reduce the number of criminal offences recorded in custodial settings by more than 60%.

The projects aim at standardisation and reinforcement of other security procedures and at changing the perception of the staff’s relation to the incarcerated persons by introducing new working methods. Long-standing cooperation with Norwegian penal institutions will significantly contribute to the achievement of the goal of sharing the best practice as prison staff is already receiving intensive training in the field of contact work with convicts and detainees; besides, the training standards of the staff are being improved.

Anticipated results

According to Dobrovolska, the current penal system is outdated and ineffective; therefore, complex measures are needed to ensure a modern and effective process. For this reason, it is important to move from an imitation of resocialization to a systematic implementation of real prevention and behavioural correction programmes and elimination of the subculture.

The institutional transformation of the penitentiary system is expected to lead to a much more efficient management of the system, as well as to a much shorter decision-making chain, faster decision-making and adhering to the principle of subsidiarity. The plans are to reduce the number of individual structural units by 40% and the number of managerial posts by up to 55% as a result of the restructuring. The aim is to ensure that no more than 20% of the staff members are allocated to administrate the Lithuanian Prison Service where currently as much as one third of the system's staff performs various administrative functions.

More efficient management and decision-making processes in the penitentiary system, a reduction in the administrative burden and reallocation of human resources will make it possible to focus more capacity on direct work with convicted persons and detainees and to ensure that no more than 20 prisoners are handled by one staff member. In this way, it is expected not only to improve the effectiveness of re-socialisation of prisoners but also to ensure a more effective security of prisons leading to a reduction in the incidence of violence, auto-aggression and suicide, instances of subcultures, and use of psychoactive substances. 

The restructuring also meets the expectations of the staff of the penitentiary system, as the planned changes will make it possible to balance the remuneration policy and the workload of the staff and to create a more attractive working environment.

Sustainable development of the dynamic security segment in the penitentiary system as well as standardisation and reinforcement of other security procedures will lead to a reduction of more than 60% in the number of criminal offences registered in penitentiary institutions.

The Ministry of Justice hopes that all these measures will lead to an efficient, mobile, open and transparent penitentiary system which is ready to take a leading role; in addition, the level of recidivism rates is expected to fall from 60% to 40%. 

It is worth reminding that last year saw the approval of the first stage of transformation of the Penalty Enforcement System initiated by the Ministry of Justice. Starting from July this year, the autonomy of the Lithuanian Probation Service will be strengthened: the Service will be equipped with the tools to independently manage its human resources, to create a human-oriented internal culture of the organization, to switch to modern science-based tools oriented towards positive changes in convicted persons' lives based on administering of alternative punishments.