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Stakić: Necessity of specializing in work exclusively with juveniles in conflict with the law

PODGORICA, 23 April 2018 - A professor from Penn State University, Djuradj Stakić, as a UNICEF consultant, has been significantly contributing to social and child protection and juvenile justice system reforms in Montenegro since 2005.

Professor Stakić during an interview about Montenegro’s juvenile justice system reform in Podgorica in February 2018 - UNICEF Montenegro 2018/Dusko Miljanic

He has recently trained professionals who will work in a juvenile detention whose premises are being built as a separate part of the Institution for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions (ZIKS) in Podgorica. In an interview, which he gave to the UNICEF Representative Office in Montenegro on this occasion, he recalls the necessity of professionals specializing in working with juveniles exclusively.

Professor Stakić , in 2005, in number of occasions you contributed to the juvenile justice system reform in Montenegro. How satisfied are you with the current reforms and the treatment of minors who are in conflict with the law?

I have no doubt that the new, comprehensive and, in many ways, innovative Juvenile Justice Law in Montenegro, which is fully in line with the UN CRC and the set of international standards and recommendations, represents a major accomplishment of UNICEF and the Government of Montenegro’s partnership in the Juvenile Justice System reform process.

Montenegro should be proud of the values, principles, concepts and empirical evidence underlining this law and should continue with the development of guidelines and manuals to help with faithful implementation of both the letter and spirit of this great legal framework. The reorganization of institutions and the service for juveniles with an orientation towards community programmes, as well as the significant improvement of conditions and quality of programmes offered in the only correctional treatment facility (Ljubovic Centre) in Montenegro are also noteworthy.

It is great that the new juvenile detention will separate juveniles from adult prisoners but there is concern as to how special, more sophisticated and fully rehabilitation-oriented treatment will be provided to juveniles by professionals and staff members, selected, trained and experienced in working with adult prisoners.

You held training for the professionals who are supposed to work in the newly established premises of the Juvenile Detention. What are your impressions after the training?

I was quite impressed with my trainees’ vivid interest, capacity to learn and readiness to readjust their work to new approaches and methods. During the training the trainees learned new things about: (1) in-depth understanding of the specifics of adolescence development, emphasizing the differences between adults’ and juveniles’ ways of thinking, emoting and behaving; (2) cutting-edge theoretical concepts and research basis about juveniles in conflict with the law; (3) ethical principles and standards for juvenile justice, and (4) evidence-based strategies and methodologies for developing highly individualized treatment plans, motivating and engaging juveniles in the process of change, helping juveniles to change and to sustain these changes, and assisting juveniles with transition and supporting them with the issues and challenges of re-entering society.

Some of the trainees work full-time with adults, some work only part-time with juveniles, and those who mostly work with juveniles are afraid they may be soon asked to perform some other duties important for ZIKS as a whole. Their concern is whether or not some of them will be allowed to specialize in working with juveniles by the ZIKS management.

I share their concerns because they need continuous training, support, and supervision, if possible, as well as to be allowed to dedicate themselves to juveniles. If that does not happen by means of the “use it or lose it” principle, they will soon return to the “good old way” of working with adults, and our juveniles will be deprived of their right to receive developmentally appropriate and effective treatment.

What is the most important thing that professionals need to adopt after training?

I am glad to note that, in their training evaluation sheets, the trainees almost unanimously stated that they would dramatically change and improve their general approach, their attitudes and relationships with juveniles. More specifically that they would provide them with warm, unconditional acceptance, trust their capacity for and willingness to change and never give up on them, even when it looks like the juveniles themselves have lost hope they can do it.

I do believe that with the new knowledge and skills gained and accompanied with the “Yes YOU CAN do it – we can help” attitude by their educators/therapists, the juveniles in the Juvenile Detention will develop pro-social attitudes and behaviours and become productive citizens of this great society and beautiful country which I truly admire.

You provided these services to UNICEF MNE pro-bono. Can you tell us more about your motives and drive?

I have spent significant time and I have had the privilege to work with a team of dedicated UNICEF professionals, professionals in the field of juvenile justice in Montenegro and even to do some direct work with children in the Ljubovic Centre. It is my great pleasure to report that all the time I felt I was accepted and treated as “one of us”. With that in mind I will proudly continue to do so in future, as long as children, families and professionals in Montenegro need me.

I am currently teaching at the University of Belgrade under the auspices of the Fulbright International Scholar Program. This is the time of the winter break and with the permission of US Embassy in Belgrade, I am glad to come to Podgorica to empower those who will empower juveniles in the Juvenile Detention.



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