Mr Palm's remarks on the National Conference on Probation on 13 December 2011
I am pleased about this Conference. As mentioned by previous speakers, the establishment of the probation services in Albania has made good progress. Probation services have already contributed to improve the administration of justice for juveniles in Albania.
It was back in September 2007, when the Tirana court referred the first juvenile to a Community Service Order, instead of detention. It was a pilot project implemented by Centre for Integrated Legal Practices and Services and supported by UNICEF, EU and Sweden. Since then, almost 40% of the sentences for juveniles in those areas are referred to alternatives to detention. Since the establishment of probation in 2009, and in cooperation with civil society organization, probation services are now present in 6 districts.
Let me explain the importance of this. Juveniles - or children - are not half adults, who should receive half of the sentence of an adult. Because they are children, they need a different response. They need a response that helps them understand the seriousness of their wrongdoing, and at the same time helps them to continue learning and growing. They need to be provided with opportunities to correct and learn from their mistakes. Their best interest needs to be kept in mind. Detention, even while awaiting trial, interrupts their learning and reduces the potential to fully re-integrate into society.
Therefore, along with Community Service Orders, we supported the introduction of diversion and restorative justice as preferred solution for juveniles. It also started in 2007 with the Albanian Foundation for Conflict Resolution and the Police in Tirana and is now present in 6 cities. Around 240 cases are presently diverted each year. It is a promising initiative that needs to be used more. Discretion to divert cases needs also to be given to and implemented by prosecutors and judges.
Still, as we speak, 4 out of 5 juveniles in the penitentiary are kept while awaiting trial. Almost 70% of them will spend their entire sentence awaiting trial. None of them can benefit from probation. Present procedures for juveniles do not use detention as a measure of last resort and violate the presumption of innocence. It is a Human Rights issue. Long pre-trial detention indicates that the criteria for arrest and maximum time for investigation and the judicial process need better regulation. The ministry has initiated the revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and this is a good opportunity to correct this.
I do visit penitentiary institutions. Albanian has done enormous progress in humanising the system. The institution for reintegration of juveniles in Kavaja, also thanks to EU support, could be a model how juveniles in the penitentiary should be treated. This is not the case in all other pre-trial detention sites. Because pre-trial is meant to be short, education is lacking and reintegration programmes are not always there. But as we heard, pre-trial detention for juveniles is not short in Albania. In any case, all children in detention, whether awaiting trial or sentenced, must be supported by social work and education measures. They must be ensured compulsory education.
For children under the age of criminal prosecution the system does not yet provide responses. Follow-up and educative measures must be available for children below 14 years old in conflict with the law. We urge that procedures be agreed to formalize cooperation between social service and law enforcement agencies in this regard. The role of probation services needs to be clear for this group.
From its establishment in 2009 until now, 639 juveniles have been referred to probation. This is very encouraging. I like to thank those involved. It's a difficult job. Together with NGO partners, UNICEF has helped the implementation of alternatives to detention for juveniles, primarily the Community Service Orders and Victims offender mediation to 6 districts. It will be critical that probation expands and starts funding these services in entire country.
I am looking forward to the day’s discussion on the progress and challenges.