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Moldova, Republic of

Media projects help Moldovan youth offenders

UNICEF Image: Moldova: Youth offender reform
© UNICEF video
The monthly ‘AerZona’ is published by inmates at the Minors’ Penitentiary in Lipcani, Moldova.

By Vladimir Lozinski

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children is a landmark effort to provide a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of such violence and act to prevent it. The final report is being presented to the General Assembly. Here is the fifth in a series of related stories.

LIPCANI, Moldova, 11 October 2006 – The Minors' Penitentiary in Lipcani, Moldova looks like, and is, a harsh place. It is the only youth penitentiary in the country.

Security is tight and the fence is high. Young men behind the wire sit and smoke. They look hardened, even in their youth. But their faces lighten when they talk about their newspaper and their radio station.

Two years ago, UNICEF brought a team of young journalists from the Youth Media Centre in the capital, Chisinau, here to Lipcani. They wanted to meet and speak with some of the 195 inmates, and the boys on the inside were interested in what was going on in the outside world.

Together, they started a monthly newspaper named ‘AerZona’, Moldova’s only prison newspaper.

Learning responsibility

The editor, Dennis Khulaghin, 18, has been at Lipcani for two years. “It is a newspaper by us and for us,” he said. “We do profiles of other inmates and stories from the outside.” 

UNICEF Image: Moldova: Youth offender reform
© UNICEF video
Moldova is looking at more modern ways of dealing with youth offenders, moving from simple incarceration towards a philosophy of education and rehabilitation.

While all the penitentiary’s inmates have access to newspapers and TV at certain hours, those involved in media work have privileged access to the Internet. The favourite topic of coverage from the outside is – of course – football.

Besides the newspaper, the Minors' Penitentiary is also the home of ‘Radio Teenager’, an internal station whose anchor, Sasha Lazarev, sends out greetings and messages piped into the rooms.

“It's goodbye to Pasha, who is leaving us in three days,” he said on one recent broadcast. “Don’t forget us, Pasha.”

And Pasha Omelichenko won’t forget. “I know it was hard but I don’t regret what I learned here,” he said. “Making the newspaper helped make me be more responsible.”

Relationships with authorities

The use of communications as a tool for behavioural change is a new idea that seems to be working. The young people at Lipcani are proud of their newspaper and radio station.

UNICEF Image: Moldova: Youth offender reform
© UNICEF video
The Minors’ Penitentiary in Lipcani, Moldova publishes the only prison newspaper in the country and broadcasts a regular radio show hosted by inmates.

“The paper gives these youngsters a sense of purpose,” explained the Director of the UNICEF-supported Youth Media Centre, Veronica Boboc. “Through these projects the young people – inside and outside the penitentiary – began to get more involved in what was happening socially. They also started to have better relationships with the authorities.”

Apart from media activities, Lipcani has football grounds where the youngsters can give free rein to some of their pent-up energy; it also has a comprehensive library.

Education and training

Moldova is looking at more modern ways of dealing with its youth offenders. Here at the Lipcani penitentiary, the administration is moving from the old routine of simple incarceration towards a philosophy of education and rehabilitation.

Education and training are helping youth offenders prepare for life outside these walls. The communication skills learned from working on the newspaper and radio station should help them to integrate into society when they are released.
The authorities and UNICEF believe it is time to think seriously about how to help young offenders reform. Nobody wants to see them back here – least of all the boys themselves.

Editor’s note: All the subjects interviewed for this story and the related video are 18 years of age or older and have consented to being identified and quoted.




UNICEF’s Vladimir Lozinski reports from inside the Minors’ Penitentiary in Lipcani, Moldova.
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