Provincial Ombudsman Visiting Novi Sad County Prison: Conditions Satisfactory, Resocialization Programs Need Improvement

Prison 2016During today's visit of Prof. Zoran Pavlović, SJD, the Provincial Protector of Citizens - Ombudsman (PPCO), to the Novi Sad County Prison it has been concluded that the rights of convicts and detainees are observed and respected, while the professional services within the Prison are acting according to the regulations. The visit has been implemented along the lines of the PPCO institution jurisdiction to observe and monitor implementation of internetaional contracts, standards and regulations in the field of human rights and, based on the information collected, to recommend measures to improved the state of human rights concerning their protection and development. Special attention has been paid to the position of detained minors, as well as general accomodation conditions, security and availability of healthcare services and no irregularities have been registered in this respect. 

Compared to the earlier period, the accomodation facilities are somewhat less crowded, providing in itself improved conditions for implementation of prison sanctions, aka imprisonment. The current number of imprisoned individuals provides also for improved hygiene, better treatment conditions, as well as easier implementation of security measures. Despite all this, the current number of staff, especially in the Security Service, has been deemed insufficient, especially in the light of the prison's aspirations to raise the standards of its work.

Architectural and structural barriers have been a decades-long challenge from the prisoners' accomodation viewpoint. However, certain improvements have been made by improving the condition of sanitary facilites, contributing thus to a higher general level of hygiene in the prison. On the other hand, certain hygiene-related challenges of the Novi Sad County Prison are a reflection of the convicts' inadequate attitude and behavior concerning general conditions in this institution. It is most evident in their perception of the need to maintain and keep their material environment and sanitary facilites in good condition, as well as in the way they are taking care about their own hygiene and health.

No irregularities in the institutions proceedings and work have been registered concerning observation of convicts' rights, their discrimination on any grounds or application of enforcement measures for security purposes, while the staff treat the convicts and detainees correctly and in the proscribed manner. Absence of discrimination and proper treatment of convicts is indicated also by availability of legal remedies to them, as well as their uninterrupted correspondence, participation in treatments, conditions of accomodation and the way security measures are being implemented, along with the fact that all notifications posted all over the facility have been translated into languages in official use within the Novi Sad City limits.

Healthcare services provided to detainees and convicts is also satisfactory, whereas in emergency situations their waiting-time for healthcare services is on average far shorter than that of the rest of the population. The challenges in this respect of the County Prison operation, as stated before, is the attitude of the convicts concerning their own health, characteriyed by neglect and engaging in risky behaviour, primarily forbidden, unsanitary tatooing exposing them to a very high risk of infectuous diseases.

Some points of improvement relate to occupational engagement of convicts. Most of them are in the closed section of the prison, so the number of those involved in occupational activities is disproportionally small. The reason for it is, on one hand, of formal and legal nature due to regulations failing to provide for occupational engagement to be a mandatory part of convicts' reeducation. Onthe other hand, the availability of work within the prison is fairly limited. Despite periodical occupational engagement of a smaller number of individuals, the current state of affairs is such that they do not get training opportunities for potentially more marketable jobs. This is particularly important because such a situation complicates the implementation of social reintegration acitivites with convicts upon their leaving the prison, along with diminishing their chances of employment.    

There are certain limitations concerning the treatment contents as well, namely the resocialization process itself. Despite availability of various corrective programs in the Novi Sad County Prison, their theoretical base and effectiveness requires a higher level of compliance with the current scientific and expert standards. The fact that around 70 percent of current convicts are imprisoned for proprietary fellonies indicates that more needs to be done to adapt the treatment to suit the needs of this particular population. There are, however, certain individual steps forward in this prison that might serve as an example of good practice to other similar institutions when it comes to specialized training of staff in treatment of domestic violence perpetrators. Implementation of such treatment increases the hope of victims of this type of violence that its perpetrators will be ready to face challenges of life upon leaving the prison and that their behavior will not be a threat to anyone anymore.

Besides the current level of the convicts' human rights exercise reached, in the light of future efforts of relevant institutions focusing on crime prevention and elimination it is also necessary to consider measures providing for raising the level of convicts' awareness and their responsibility towards the community. High costs of implementation of criminal penalty measures, along with a considerable recidivism rate in Serbia, pose a question of effectiveness of the existing penal system, aka treatment of convicts. Prisons should definitely not be a place of enforcement or coercion, yet it is necessary to reconsider their role in the process of resocialization of persons who have done their time in them in a way that would, on one hand, grant safety to all citizens, and enable ex-convicts and crime perpetrators to become functional members of society, on the other. Only an actual social reintegration of persons who have served their time in prison and prevention of re-comitting crimes will represent the highest possible level of observance of human rights and protection of ex-perpetrators of crime, their family members, as well as all citizens of Vojvodina and Serbia.