Mr Palm's address during the Workshop on Improving the Pre-trial Detention System in Albania on 3 November 2010
Let me thank the organisers for giving me the opportunity to share my views on the situation of the pre-trial detention system in Albania. Representing UNICEF, I will focus on the treatment of juveniles in conflict with the law.
Let me tell you the good news first. Albania has achieved remarkable progress in the treatment of juveniles in the penitentiary. The institute for reintegration of juveniles in Kavaja is a testimony of this. New premises, education programme in place, support for reintegration of juveniles, approaching EU standards – many of the right things are in place. Other pre-trial detention institutions will follow this example, especially providing education and quality legal and psychosocial services for juveniles.
But with all these improvements, and while the conditions in pre-trial detention facilities might be ok, there still is something fundamentally wrong. There should not be so many children in detention awaiting trial, for such a long time. As many of you know, the detention of children should be a measure of last resort. Detention should only be an option in very special circumstances, after all possible efforts have been made to keep them out of prison while awaiting trial. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks so.
Half of all children detained in Kavaja are awaiting trial.
I want to share with you the story of one of them. Afrim is 14. He has been in Kavaja for 70 days. He is accused of stealing something worth less than 70 Dollar. He is awaiting trial. He is a first time offender. He will be sentenced during the next few months. Very probably, his sentence will not be longer than the time he already spent in pre-trial detention. Maybe his sentence will be exactly as to make up for the time he spent in prison waiting for the judicial process to move on.
Like Afrim, around 70% of children spend their court sentence while in pre-trial detention.
It is not right that a child spends his entire sentence in prison, during a time while he is to be presumed innocent and his guilt has not been proven. The principle of proportionality need to be observed. Pre-trial detention should only be applied as a security measure, which clearly does not apply for petty theft by a juvenile. Detention for juveniles has to be a measure of last resort.
I also thought that, should our sons be unfortunate enough to be caught in some criminal offense, we – for instance those of us gathered here in the conference – would do everything possible to get them released as soon as possible, so they could await trial at home. We probably would succeed, because we know the law, and know the institutions to which to appeal. Poor people, of poor families do not have the same opportunity. They may not know the law, they may not know how to make their case, they may not know the person or institution to turn to. Their sons would await trial in prison, our sons would stay at home.
We have to ensure that all people have the same chance, and that all people are equal in front of the law. It is not right if juvenile prisons are filled with youngsters, because their parents are poor.
Juveniles need to be kept out of detention especially while awaiting trial. The probation law is in place. More must be done to improve knowledge and practice to apply and inspect the criteria for use of security measures for juveniles. Investigation time and judiciary processes need to be expedited for juveniles. As much as possible and reasonable, juveniles need to be diverted from the justice system, for instance through mediation programmes, so as not to build up a criminal record and destroy the future of a person too young to be fully responsible for what happened.
Justice for children and community is better served through immediate re-integration and rehabilitation. It will reduce recidivism among juveniles. And the best interest of the child will be served.