We will have more efficient justice system with introduction of probation service


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Interview with Nikolay Aroustamyan, Advisor to the Minister of Justice of Armenia.

Non-governmental organizations and, recently, also the ministry, often outline the necessity of introduction of the probation service. When, eventually, the probation service will be introduced in Armenia?

According to the 2012-2016 Plan of Action of Legal and Judicial Reforms, approved by the President, it is envisaged to draft relevant legal acts required for setting up the probation service. This service will be a separate agency, independent of penitentiary service.

At this moment I can say that we intend to set up the service in January 2014. To achieve this, some activities are being carried out, in particular, a number of legal acts were drafted and I hope that, finally, they will be put in official circulation in the nearest future, in June.

As for more practical issues, including the structure of probation service, assessment of staff needed, criteria for staff selection, this type of work has been done. I believe that we will need to do selection and training of the staff during the second half of the year.

What advantages does the probation system have and how Armenia will benefit? 

There are many advantages. In terms of implementation of probation activities, it will function at the different stages: pre-trial, trial, while serving sentence and post-penitentiary stages.

The probation service at the pre-trial stage means assistance to decision makers, assistance to judges during their decision making on applying pre-trial detention as a measure of constraint. At the stage of trial it means assistance in resorting to punishment, the type and gravity of punishment, particularly regarding social evaluation of the subject of a crime. During the stage of serving the sentence, reports will be drafted and presented to prepare the process of discharging the punishment, conditional early release or softening the remaining part of the sentence term. And the post-penitentiary stage will require cooperation with social institutions. 

The prevention measures to be used at the pre-trial stage are especially important, such as home arrest and oversight, which are defined in the new Criminal Procedure Code.

The other important function that I would like to mention is using electronic monitoring in case of conditional punishment and early conditional release.

If we are to summarize, we can say that with this jurisdiction we can have more efficient justice system and more effective execution of punishment, aimed at returning a person back to the society in a proper manner. 

What kind of obstacles are there in the process of introduction of the probation service or could come up, considering that it is a completely new system?

This system is not completely new, as we have some elements already in place both  in terms of legislation and also in practice, but still there are many novelties to be introduced.

As for the obstacles, I believe that we will have only financial obstacles, a lack of financial means. Why? Because everything abovementioned, including electronic monitoring or providing adequate office conditions, requires funding. It is a challenge to ensure all these.

In theory, I think that we do not have any other issues but this, except for that the drafts shall be discussed at the National Assembly which in its turn may create or not some issues out of our control.

You mentioned that problems with funding may come up. Where will you seek funding: out of the state budget or any other sources?

The basis definitely is the budget, but at this moment I cannot say that we have any other source than the state budget which is not prohibited by the law. We have different projects for cooperation, which relate to exchange of experience, professional training. In this term, we cooperate with the Americans. But we do not have any financial contribution for setting up the system at the moment. It is possible that there will be some in the future, but nothing is clear at this moment.

In which structure the probation system will function?

The probation service will function within the structure of the Ministry of Justice as a special service. The organizational status has a secondary meaning and it has to be discussed yet.

How the probation service will cooperate with the division of implementation of alternative punishment?

The division of alternative punishment which is a part of the Penitentiary Department will be dissolved with the launch of probation service. This is how it is currently seen.

Will be any cooperation with non-governmental structures, NGOs? There are organizations that have rehabilitation centers and significant experience and resources. 

We are not simply saying that there can be cooperation but we are going to seek and welcome cooperation, providing for it through legislative acts, especially seeking cooperation in certain areas and methods.

I am not sure whether you are informed or not that PH International organization's centers for juveniles’ rehabilitation are at the risk of closure due to financial problems, and the state has not committed to fund them. Is it possible that these centers' resources turn to be a basis for probation services?

Certainly there will be cooperation with them, but we cannot build things on their basis, as this belongs to the public sector.

How are you going to solve the issue of specialists? Will the psychologists and social workers who work at the penitentiary institutions at the moment be engaged in the probation service?

If they would like to join this service, then the answer is yes. However, unfortunately, we do not have enough psychologists and social workers at the division of implementation of alternative punishment, we have almost no specialists.

One of our challenges is lack of specialists, we have to conduct selection and recruitment of staff in the second half of the year. We have an issue both with the number of staff and their background and capacity. We have different specialists with higher education at this division, particularly, lawyers, but not everybody will wish or have an opportunity to transfer to the probation service. Thus, we have an issue of selection and recruitment of the staff.

A few models of probation system have been discussed. Which model has been selected and why?

First, I should say that we have studied various European systems, and there is no all-in-one model, the models are pretty mixed. We certainly will cooperate with several European countries and the US. We also have developed a strategy on the concept of probation service; the relevant legislation have been drafted based on it.  

Interview by Mariam Sargsyan