2010 Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan Juvenile Justice System Consultation: Evaluation of Rehabilitation Centre and Legal Clinic
Author: Kirsten Anderson
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In 2006, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child conducted its periodic review of the State of Azerbaijan. During its Concluding Observations on Azerbaijan, the UN Committee expressed its concern at the over-use of detention and long periods of detention to which children in conflict with the law are exposed. It also found that community-based alternatives to deprivation of liberty are not sufficiently used on children. In order to bring the juvenile justice system in line with international standards, the Committee recommended that the government: “Take all necessary measures to ensure that persons below 18 are only deprived of liberty as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, in particular by developing and implementing alternatives to custodial sentences.” These observations were also made during the Committee’s earlier periodic review of Azerbaijan in 1997.
On 14 August 2007, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs, UNICEF Azerbaijan, the OSCE Office in Baku and the NGO Alliance on Children’s Rights signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation to improve the national juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice Reform Programme commenced in October 2007. As part of this process for reform, UNICEF Azerbaijan, in partnership with the NGO Alliance on Children’s Rights, and with technical assistance from UK-based NGO The Children’s Legal Centre, developed the Diversion Centre and Legal Clinic in Narimanov District, Baku, for children who are in conflict with the law or at risk of coming into conflict with the law.
The project provides a range of services to children and their families and the primary purpose of the project is to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by developing and piloting a model for effective community-based alternatives to custody to which law enforcement bodies (Police, Prosecutors and Courts) and the Commission on Minors (COM) can refer children. The purpose was to develop and refine a model that could ultimately be integrated into the national criminal justice system and replicated throughout the country.
Another aim of the project is to respond to the needs of children who are identified as being at risk of offending. At the time that the project was being developed, there were very few options available for dealing with children who are identified by Police as being at risk of offending.
The development of the Legal Clinic was a response to a lack of specialised legal services that existed in Azerbaijan at the time the project was conceived.
Purpose / Objective:
The purpose of this evaluation was to assess the ability of the Project to provide an effective response to juvenile offending, and thereby lower the rates of imprisonment and institutionalisation of children in conflict with the law and children at risk of coming into conflict with the law, and reduce rates of child offending and anti-social behaviour. The evaluation also sought to consider whether, and is so, how the pilot project could be taken over by the Government of Azerbaijan, replicated nationally, and effectively integrated into the national juvenile justice system.
Research for this evaluation was carried out in April 2010. A series of semi-standardised interviews were carried out with staff from the Diversion Centre and Legal Clinic, children and parent beneficiaries of the project, and professionals from three of the referring districts. Interviews were also carried out with national juvenile justice institutions. In addition, an observation of a group therapy session was conducted on-site at the Diversion Centre, and a brief file review was also carried out.
The Researcher also collected quantitative data from the Director of the Diversion Centre, the Director of the Legal Clinic, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice. The purpose for collecting this data was to examine the number and types of children being referred into the Centre and Clinic, and the extent of referrals by referring institution. The data from the Ministries on the rate of institutionalisation of children and the rate of juvenile offending was used in order to, along with the qualitative data, measure the impact of the Project against the Project aims. Financial information was also collected from the Director of the Diversion Centre and from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Justice in order to assess the efficiency of the Project against existing alternatives for responding to juvenile offending and anti-social behaviour.
Key Findings and Conclusion:
Operation and Effectiveness of the Diversion Centre
The Centre is being used for a variety of purposes:
- Prevention (for preventing children who are identified as being at risk from coming into conflict with the law, for example, those who get into fights at school). The Commission on Minors and Police appear to be referring children for this purpose.
- Diversion (dealing with children who have committed an offence outside the formal criminal justice system). Police are referring children for this purpose.
- As an alternative sentencing measure. A Judge in one of the evaluation districts is referring children as part of awarding a conditional sentence.
To date, 102 children – mostly boys – have been referred to the Diversion Centre. Most children had been referred following the commission of an offence or for dropping out of or fighting at school. It appears that the Centre has been working with targeted children – that is, children who require and would benefit from more intensive interventions than mere supervision by a juvenile justice body, in order to respond to their offending or anti-social behaviour.
Also, the Project does not strictly focus on diversion / alternative sentencing of children in conflict with the law, but also on children at risk of coming into conflict with the law, and children who cannot be prosecuted as they are under the minimum age of criminal responsibility. This model works well within the juvenile justice system in Azerbaijan. Receiving children into the project who are at risk of offending or are under the minimum age of criminal responsibility allows the project to perform an important preventive function, by providing secondary / tertiary level services to prevent children from coming into conflict with the law. .
On the whole, representatives from district level juvenile justice institutions appear to have a good knowledge of the types of services, activities and support that the Centre offers. However, this was not the case for the Prosecutors interviewed, who appeared to know very little about the Project, with the exception of the Prosecutor who attended the interview in Narimanov.
The range of services offered to children, and the individualised assessments and plan development in which children feel they are actively involved, indicates that the Centre is able to take a flexible and comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of children and the root causes of their offending behaviour in an effective manner. The level of support offered to each child was quite varied and appears to be responding well to the unique needs and situation of each child, and is flexible enough to fit into their lives.
Children and families of children who had been referred to the project reported being very pleased with the outcomes of the project. Parents / grandparents interviewed all felt that the involvement of their children / grandchildren in the project had had a positive influence on their behaviour and their lives. Children generally appeared to appreciate the ability to have someone to talk to, and they appreciated the help given to them by their social workers. Some children also reported that the Centre’s pedagogue had helped them to achieve better in school. Children also appear to appreciate the access to facilities like computers.
Several children interviewed directly attributed the Centre with preventing future criminal or anti-social behaviour. They reported that their behaviour had changed for the better following their involvement at the Centre.
On the whole, referring institutions were very positive with their feedback on the effectiveness of the Diversion Centre. In most cases, they felt that the Centre helped children to get their ‘normal lives’ back. The feedback demonstrates that, among some referring bodies, the Centre is a unique project that is playing an integral part within the juvenile justice system – it is filling a gap in that it is providing an effective, intensive non-institutional measure in the referring districts; a service that was not available prior to the establishment of the Centre.
Operation and Effectiveness of the Legal Clinic
To date, the Legal Clinic has received 414 case referrals, including 59 criminal cases involving juvenile offenders and 355 civil matters. Civil matters in which the Clinic provides advice and representation have included: securing alimony for separated parents / children; securing identity documents, including birth certificates; and securing accommodation for children who do not have parental care.
Lawyers at the Legal Clinic have presented assessments of children made by the psychologist to help in sentence mitigation. The Clinic staff see their role, in part, to gather evidence to be used in sentence mitigation for their child clients. In order to do this, they work with the staff of the Diversion Centre and receive recommendations from the Centre’s psychologist, social workers, pedagogue and also collect information from the child’s school, family and neighbours.
The Clinic’s staff also present evidence before the Commission of Minors to encourage the COM, where appropriate, to refer children to the Diversion Centre.
Cases will be referred to the Clinic from a number of government institutions, including, for example, the Ministry of Education, the Ombudsman’s Office, the State Committee for Family, Women, Children’s Affairs, the commission on Minors, Police and Courts, and also from closed institutions, for instance, children who have been released from the Special School. The Clinic’s staff will also conduct press monitoring, in order to identify cases coming before the Courts in which they may be able to provide legal advice and support. Children are also referred to the Clinic through a national child helpline that has recently been established.
In addition to providing legal advice and representation to individual children and parents, the Clinic’s staff are also involved in policy work and law reform.
Staff at the Centre reported that, of 44 child criminal cases that had been completed at the time of the interview, 39 had been ‘successful’ – i.e. the child had not been sentenced to, or otherwise placed, in a closed institution, but had been diverted or received an alternative sentencing measure. Twenty-seven of these children have been referred to the Diversion Centre, to date. Out of the 302 civil matters that had been completed at the time of the interview, it was reported that 290 had been resolved in favour of the client.
Children, parents and representatives from national juvenile justice institutions were very supportive of the work of the Legal Clinic. It appears to be performing an important function in ensuring that children who are in conflict with the law have access to specialised legal advice and representation, and that children and families are able to access legal advice and representation in a range of civil matters.
Impact of the Project
Data obtained from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education shows a decline in the use of institutionalisation of children in conflict with the law and children at risk of coming in conflict with the law since the Project was established. It is unclear whether the establishment of the Project caused or was significant in contributing to a decrease in the number of children placed in these institutions, but it can be said that there may be a statistical correlation between the establishment of the Project and the decline in the number of children institutionalised.
The feedback from district level referring institutions indicates that the Centre may be having an impact on reducing the rates of institutionalisation of children. While, according to interviews with some representatives, many children referred to the project would not have otherwise been placed in a closed institution, it may be likely that, in dealing effectively and comprehensively with the causes of children’s offending, it is likely that the Centre assists in ensuring that children do not re-offend, and therefore reduces their chances of being placed in a closed institution in the less immediate future.
The level of confidence in the Centre demonstrated by referring institutions is encouraging and means that the Centre, where properly funded, will continue to be a sustainable and integral part of the juvenile justice system within referring districts.
The evidence also suggests that the Legal Clinic is playing an important role in ensuring that children in conflict with the law are, where appropriate, diverted away from the criminal justice system and referred to the Diversion Centre, rather than going through a trial and facing the risk of being awarded a custodial sentence. It has also worked to advocate on behalf of children under the minimum age of criminal responsibility, to encourage decision-making institutions, like the COMs, to consider alternatives to institutionalisation of children. The evidence suggests that, in some cases, the Legal Clinic has had a direct impact in ensuring that children are not institutionalised where they can be dealt with under an alternative measure, like the Diversion Centre.
Since the establishment of the Project, there has been a drop in the rate of juvenile crime in Azerbaijan. While this does not definitively establish the level of impact that the Centre has had on this drop in the level of offending, qualitative data gathered from the interviews with parents, children and staff from referring institutions certainly indicates that the Project may indeed be having an impact in reducing the rates of recidivism among Project beneficiaries, and therefore perhaps in reducing the rate of juvenile offending in Project areas. In fact, of the 102 children who have been referred to the Diversion Centre, to date, only two have re-offended.
Responding to children in conflict with the law and children at risk of coming into conflict with the law by referring them to the Diversion Centre is far more cost effective than placing them in a closed institution. The per-child cost of the Diversion Centre for 2009 was around 7% of the per-child cost of the Juvenile Colony and Special School for Boys. While not all children referred to the Diversion Centre would otherwise have been placed in an institution, the evidence indicates that a significant number of these children could have been placed in a closed detention facility.
Future of the Project
There is a good level of awareness of and support for international juvenile justice standards among national level representatives who were interviewed. With the Draft Law on Juvenile Justice having been recently developed by a member of Parliament (where it received wide support, according to an MP who was interviewed), it appears to be a good time to advocate that the Project be adopted, taken over and funded by the Government, as the Project should play an integral part in the Azerbaijan juvenile justice system, helping to ensure that the system complies with international standards.
Operation and improvement of the existing model
- The Centre should continue to focus primarily on diversion and prevention of offending. According to international standards and best practice, it is more beneficial to divert children away from the formal criminal justice system, to avoid stigmatisation and reduce the chances of them re-offending, than to process them through the formal criminal justice system. However, Judges should be encouraged to refer children to the Centre as part of the terms of a conditional sentence. While it is preferable that the majority of children are diverted away from the criminal justice system, and not appear before a Court, where children are nevertheless processed through the Court, there should be an option available for Judges to refer these children.
- The Centre staff should work to ensure that district Judges have a good level of understanding about the Diversion Centre, in order to encourage referrals from Courts. UNICEF should also approach the Head of the Standing Committee on State Building and Legal Policy, who is also a member of the Judicial-Legal Council, and ask him to attempt to issue a Decree to Judges that they have the power in law to refer children to the Diversion Centre as part of a conditional sentence. The Head of the Standing Committee was of the opinion that it was an erroneous interpretation of the law that Judges do not have the power to refer children, and is willing to work to correct this.
- Staff from the Centre should establish better links with district Prosecutors and should ensure that Prosecutors receive more information about the Project.
- The Centre’s Staff should ensure that all referring institutions have a good knowledge of the referral criteria.
- The Centre’s staff should establish links with organisations that can provide vocational training and careers guidance to children – for children at the Centre who had completed their compulsory schooling, they appeared to require some support in securing employment or training and planning for the future.
- It would be good practice to provide monthly progress reports relating to individual children to all referring institutions.
- The Centre’s staff should conduct more work with families and communities (perhaps through schools) to reduce the stigma of involvement in the Diversion Centre.
- Staff at the Diversion Centre should establish a Youth Coordination Council, composed of children who have completed a programme at the Centre. This would be a good way to encourage the participation of the Project’s beneficiaries in developing the project further: as beneficiaries, they are in a unique position to give very useful information.
Future of the Project
- The Diversion Centre should be under the control of a national institution that has a strong social welfare, rather than law enforcement, mandate. Associating the Centre with a social welfare mandate reinforces its primary purpose of diverting children in conflict with the law or at risk of coming into conflict with the law and dealing with them outside the formal criminal justice system However, it is essential that Police and the Inspection on Minors (IOM) have confidence in the body that will control the Centre. Police officers play a crucial role in diverting children and in responding to children at risk of offending.
- It would be preferable to keep the Legal Clinic separate from the Diversion Centre. While the Clinic provides an important service to children who are ultimately referred to the Diversion Centre, its services and activities are wider than this. The Legal Clinic could sit within the Ombudsman’s mandate and consideration should be given to advocating for the Ombudsman to take control of the Legal Clinic.
- When a decision is made as to which national government body/ies should take control of the Project/s, a representative from the government body/ies should work with UNICEF and the Parliament to advocate that the Finance Ministry allocate finances for the adoption and national roll out of the project. Efforts should focus on ensuring that funds are allocated to the Project in the national budget, which will be revised in July 2010.
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