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Reform of Georgia's juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation

© UNICEF Georgia/2010/Amruvelashvili
A vocational training room for boys in the Educational Establishment for Juveniles of the Penitentiary Department in Tbilisi, Georgia. Here boys learn video editing, hairdressing, web-design and animation as part of a UNICEF and European Union-supported partnership to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

By Sarah Marcus

TBILISI, Georgia, 13 May 2010 – On a warm day in early spring, groups of adolescent boys congregate outside a large, well-kept building. Some are playing football and table tennis, while others are chatting.

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The boys gathered here have been convicted and remanded in custody at the Georgian Penitentiary Department’s Educational Establishment for Juveniles – where the focus is on building the boys’ future while ensuring that they understand the errors of their past.

Recognizing mistakes

“We help the boys overcome their problems and feel part of society,” said Penitentiary Department Director Ramaz Kukushadze. “We help them to recognize the mistakes they made. A mature person can carry out a crime, but the same act committed by a juvenile can only be a mistake.”

The Educational Establishment for Juveniles is part of two-year programme aimed at transforming Georgia’s juvenile justice system into one that is more focused on reintegrating young offenders into society. The effort was launched in 2009 by the Government of Georgia, UNICEF and the European Union.

Tbilisi’s Women’s Prison No. 5 is also involved in the programme. Staff at both sites have been trained in children’s rights and child sensitivity. Both institutions conduct vocational training, as well.

‘I’m eager to learn’

The boys at the Educational Establishment for Juveniles study hairdressing, web design, video editing, computer repair and animation.

“I’m eager to learn, and I want to learn myself. No one forces me to,” said one boy who is studying animation. Another youth said he wanted to learn computer skills in order to pass the national exams and study computer science at university.

All the boys study for their national exams under the direction of teachers from Tbilisi’s Ilia Chavchavadze State University. One student has already won a place at the university, which is a source of considerable pride among the staff.

© UNICEF Georgia/2010/Amruvelashvili
Under-age girls at a counselling session in Tbilisi’s Women’s Prison No. 5. The girls are benefitting from a two-year programme sponsored by UNICEF and the European Union, and designed to rehabilitate them and give them vocational skills.

Plan for rehabilitation

In addition to training and education, the boys are guided in understanding how to avoid becoming repeat offenders. Each boy gets an individual plan focused on rehabilitation and reintegration.

“When I first arrived here, the time dragged terribly. I didn’t know what to do before I learned that I could take the national exams,” said a boy playing football in the yard. “I really didn’t know how to kill time. Now I can use it for my own benefit.”

He added: “If I could turn back time, I would change one thing: I would not commit the mistake I committed. When I leave here, even if my salary is not enough, it will not make me do something which would get me sent back here.”

Group sessions

The girls detained at Women’s Prison No. 5 study hairdressing and dressmaking, and now have a room equipped with computers where they study and can spend free time. In line with international standards, the under-age girls have been separated from adult prisoners.

“It’s good we have this room now. Before, when we lived with the other women, it was very difficult,” said one girl. “At first, being here was a great shock to me. I thought I wouldn’t stand it. Of course, by and by I got relatively calm. I have great hopes and dream about changing my life. I’m very sorry about my mistakes.”

Most of the children in the rehabilitation programme end up speaking about their offenses in a group setting. They realize the impact of the crime on themselves and the people around them, and they start feeling compassion for others.

“Before attending these sessions, I had never thought about my mistake, my offense,” said a young female probationer. “I thought that it was a regular thing to do, but now … I’m trying to regain respect and trust from my indirect victim. Group work has helped me to continue living as a normal person.”




27 April 2010: UNICEF's Sarah Marcus reports on a programme to help rehabilitate Georgian juvenile offenders.
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