In January-March 2014 “Civil Society Institute” NGO with support of the Council of Europe office in Yerevan conducted a sociological study aimed at identifying pre-requisites of committing a crime and causes for reoffending in Armenia. In the framework of this study the effects of sanctions and measures applied to offenders who committed less serious and moderately serious offences were analysed from the perspective of their impact on reoffending. Impact of custodial and non-custodial measures, including conditional non-execution of the sentence and early conditional release, were analysed. Special attention was paid to the effect that different sanctions and measures have on reoffending and opportunities for reintegration into society. The possible role of the Probation Service to be formed in the near future in Armenia was also assessed.
Fifty three expert interviews and 179 semi-structured interviews with person who had criminal record and were held in pre-trial detention and offenders serving custodial and non-custodial sentences were conducted. Official statistics was gathered and analysed.
It was established that despite the increase in crime rate in Armenia in the recent year, reoffending rate has been decreasing and makes up only 3.7% of all crimes registered or 5.58% of all crimes where perpetrators were apprehended in 2013. Sixty five percent of all crimes committed by repeat offenders in 2013 were less serious offences (50.22%) and moderately serious offences (14.46%). There is an increase in crimes committed by young offenders at the age of 18-24. There has been an alarming increase in crimes committed by women whereas in case of juveniles the rate has been significantly decreasing. As a result of research the following main causes of reoffending in Armenia have been identified:
- poverty coupled with other determinants;
- poor family situation;
- influence of social circle, both in a penitentiary institution (PI) and out of it;
- insufficient support from the official support agencies and social organisations, particularly in respect of the organisation of education programmes and support to secure employment,
- and lack of effective measures against offending and reoffending.
In addition, such factors as family situation, personal characteristics, involvement in a criminal subculture, stereotypes existing in society and drug addiction play crucial roles. Societal attitude is not considered a strong negative factor in Armenia. However, the practice of employers of avoiding persons with previous criminal record may become a precondition, additional risk factor for reoffending.
It was established that in the vast majority of cases – 78% in 2013 defendants were sentenced to imprisonment. The research shows that custodial sentences have a negative effect on almost all areas of life. Imprisonment affects the well-being and income of the offender and his or her family, and their prospects of obtaining jobs when released. In addition there can be deterioration in physical health as a result of overcrowding and insufficient available medical assistance. Negative peers have a stronger effect when the individual is incarcerated.
Concerns were raised that imprisonment contributed to an increase in reoffending as inmates can learn antisocial skills and values while serving custodial sentences, this is commonly termed “the deviancy training effect”. Imprisonment under the current conditions in Armenia serves mostly to ensure the isolation of the offender and effective work aimed at rehabilitation is lacking. Serious understaffing and lack of necessary qualifications in relevant staff of the penitentiary institutions coupled with overcrowding lead to a situation where no rehabilitative activities are implemented with inmates. Serving non-custodial sentences has significantly less negative impact on relations with friends, relatives and neighbours and the family. Such sanctions also facilitate adequate socialisation of an offender preventing increased involvement in the “criminal” subculture.
The importance of using alternative sanctions more broadly, especially in case of the first offence was emphasized as they can have positive impact both from educational point of view and in terms of crime deterrence. Input from a social worker and a psychologist is not envisaged for those offenders who are serving non-custodial sentences. At the same time there is a pressing need for such activities and impact by such specialists. Alternative sanctions shall also be coupled with purposeful activities carried out with an offender by various specialists (a psychologist, social worker, social pedagogue, lawyer, etc.) and continuous support, including in ensuring access to education and occupation, shall be ensured. The most risky period in terms of probability of reoffending is first three years after release.
It was emphasized that conditional non-execution of the sentence shall be used more actively taking into account various factors. The effectiveness of the work of alternative sanctions division and the punishment itself depends on which supervision activities are implemented, during the period of enforcement of the conditional/suspended sentence.
It was concluded that the probation service (to be formed in the near future in Armenia) may have its positive role in preventing reoffending. More work is needed with the offender and his/her family. Assistance shall be ensured, including in improving access to education and employment.