On 2-3 April 2015 in Aghveran, Armenia Civil Society Institute NGO organized a training seminar on the topic “Specifics of the functioning of a probation service: experience of the National Probation Agency of Georgia”. The trainer Mr. Teimuraz Maghradze, the Deputy Head of the National Probation Agency of Georgia, presented the system of the probation service of Georgia, its functions, particularities of the establishment and operation, existing challenges and possible ways of tackling them.
The event was made possible in the framework of the project “Promotion of the use of alternative sanctions in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia” implemented by Penal Reform International (PRI) and funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
Mr. Magradze agreed to give an exclusive interview to www.hra.am which is presented below.
Mr. Magradze, when the probation service was established in Georgia? What are the functions of the service and at which stages of the criminal process does it get involved?
In 2001, at the initial stage of its establishment and functioning the Probation Agency of Georgia operated under the Ministry of Justice. At the second stage in 2009 it became a part of a newly created Ministry, i.e. the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance of Georgia. It is important to emphasize that one of the crucial developments in the history of the NPA was the fact that in 2009 it obtained a legal status of a Legal Entity of Public Law. It means that it is a semi-independent system, a system with its own budget and management under the umbrella of the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance.
One of the main objectives and functions of the Probation Agency is supervision over probationers, as well as assistance in re-socialization, rehabilitation of convicts and probationers. The main purpose of the NPA is to help probationers to change their lives to a better one. For that end, we have probation officers, social workers and psychologists. Their work is aimed at rehabilitation of the probationers and prevention of the crime. I would like to emphasize that prevention of reoffending is a major issue which is dealt with the participation of our high-qualified social workers, psychologists and probation officers. We do risk and needs assessment of probationers as well as tailor individual sentence plan for every probationer.
The Probation Agency is dealing with the people having problems with law. We work with ex-prisoners when they leave prison. Our second group of beneficiaries are those who are sent for probation avoiding the penitentiary system.
Are you planning to expand the functions of the Agency?
Yes, sure. We are already developing our system step by step for all this years. We have founded the institute of social workers and psychologists. So in the beginning of 2014 we created the Department for the Rehabilitations Programs. In total, 33 social workers, 11 psychologists and 5 members of the management work there.
In the future we are going to implement new system - electronic monitoring for home arrest. This is the main goal of our system till the end of this year.
Besides, one of the most important projects implemented in Georgia at the beginning of 2014 is a system of so called “halfway house”, limited liberty establishment, which is operated under the umbrella of the NPA.
This is an establishment without high fences, where persons with limited liberty have a possibility to leave the territory of the Establishment on weekends and holidays, visit their families.
The purpose of the Establishment is to contribute to reintegration of the convicts into society, rehabilitation and preparation for release.
This project has been evaluated as a success both by us and the Government that the next year we are planning to open new establishments for juveniles and women.
What challenges did you face in Georgia while establishing a probation service which can be useful for Armenia to avoid such kind of problems?
The main issue in Georgia, Armenia and, generally, in Caucasus is the mentality of our people. This has been a challenge for us for many years. So it is very important to talk to each other, to share experience. I believe that our experience in this field, lessons learn are very important for Armenia.
It is difficult to elaborate at this stage what will be useful for Armenia and what is not. However, it is important that we are learning a lot from our neighbor countries and our neighbors are learning from our experience, too.
Our country is not very rich, that means that when coming up with any new project or initiative we have to justify that the country really needs it. Sure, the budgetary issues are important and the Georgian Government is guided by its priorities. It is crucial for us that the Government considers that having a probation service in Georgia is important. Hence, we are funded by the state budget and other resources.
When you implement something new and unknown in Georgian reality, everybody treats it as a pilot project in order to assess whether that would work or not. Therefore, it is a big success for us that all projects that we have implemented in Georgia were successful.
One of the main issues related to establishment of a probation service in Armenia is financial aspect. What kind of funding was used to establish Georgian probation agency: state or donors’?
The main source for Georgian Probation Agency is state budget. We receive annual funding from the state budget. On top of that, the NPA, being a Legal Entity of Public Law, has a possibility to pursue its own income and contribute to its budget; hence income generated as a result of our own activities is very helpful. Besides, there are many governmental and non-governmental organizations and donors (PRI, UNICEF, USAID, EU etc.) who help us to develop, organize working groups and meetings with international experts, to learn their experience and recommendations.
From year to year we receive more and more funding from the Government for developing the NPA across the country. We are trying to motivate our employees; every year we try to increase salaries of our stuff at the NPA.
Another concern related to establishment of probation service in Armenia is the issue of probation officers, professional background and training for the staff. How this issue was solved in Georgia? How your stuff was recruited and trained?
As I have already mentioned, first of all the salary of the staff is getting higher and higher so we are trying to recruit high-qualified staff for the agency to ensure achievement of the set goals. We need to train our staff every year to strengthen their professional capacity. For that end, the Ministry founded Training Center for penitentiary and probation system. Every year we ask Training Center to organize many different kinds of training sessions for our staff and they assist us. 100 percent of our staff is trained every year. Besides, with the help of our donors and international organizations we invite different experts who train not only the core staff or probation officers but also the management and decision makers.
How many people are employed at the National Probation Agency?
There are more than 370 employees in the NPA in total, including around 200 probation officers, 33 social workers, 11 psychologists and management.
Has establishment of a probation service affected overcrowding in prisons in any way? Has the prison population of Georgia reduced? Do you have any statistics?
After the establishment of the NPAwe were very ambitious and we thought our system was very good. However, we are still improving it in order to give the Government and courts a real efficient alternative to imprisonment to be able to send fewer people to prisons and use the maximum of alternative sanctions. Besides probation, there are many other alternative sanctions that we are executing that give a possibility to send offenders not to prison but to the NPA.
I cannot provide any statistics right now but as a result of functioning of the probation service and large-scale amnesty and pardon granted two years ago the number of prisoners has decreased.
Right now we have a little bit more than 12.000 active probationers all over Georgia. Approximately 11.000 of them are male probationers, 700 female probationers and 200 juveniles.
What kind of programmes do you offer for juvenile offenders? Do you have statistics on how many juvenile offenders are released on probation by courts?
Mainly a court decides in favor of releasing juveniles on probation for the supervision of the NPA. As I have already mentioned we have about 200 juvenile probationers in Georgia and we have special system for juvenile probationers. In every region of the country we have specialized officers who deal only with juveniles. We have specialized psychologists who work only with juvenile probationers and with their families if there is a need. We have special form for individual sentence planning approved by the Minister. And this is different from the one intended for adult probationers.
We have psycho-social rehabilitation programs, educational programs, and our staff works with their family members if they had problems in the family. We try to involve juvenile probationers into vocational training courses, community and cultural activities, as well as to help them in schools. So there are thousands of programs, and we pay a lot of attention on juveniles because this is a sensitive issue. We try to apply special approach to them.
Interview by Mary Aleksanyan