Civil Society Institute NGO presents to the attention and consideration of the relevant stakeholders a proposal on reforming the mechanism for early conditional release in Armenia.
A Summary of the Present System
A three-tier early conditional release (ECR) system operates in Armenia. It comprises Administrative Board, Independent Board (IB) and the Court. Once a prisoner has served the minimum term provided by law to be eligible for ECR within a month the Administrative Board of the Penitentiary Institution (PI) convenes a meeting to discuss the issue of submitting a motion to the Independent Board on granting an ECR to the prisoner in question. If the Board makes a decision of not submitting a motion, the discussion of ECR issue of the prisoner is suspended on a term provided by law. This decision is subject to appeal. In case the decision is approved the motion is sent to the Independent Board for further approval. Subcommittee is established by the two IB members who visit the Penitentiary Institution (PI), meet the prisoner and examine his/her case after which they submit an opinion to the Independent Board. On the basis of the submitted opinion the IB decides on the approval or disapproval of the motion by a secret ballot. The decisions of IB are not substantiated and are not based on clearly defined criteria. The disapproved decision is not subject to appeal and the latter is subject to appeal only in case of procedural violations. In case of approval the prison administration sends the ECR case to the court. The court makes the final decision on ECR and this decision is subject to appeal.
The present ECR system has been repeatedly criticized. Moreover, the Administrative Boards of Penitentiary Institutions mostly do not submit the ECR motions on prisoners in question to the discussion of the Independent Board. In 2013 the Administrative Boards presented only 18% of the examined cases to the IB. In turn the Independent Board approved approximately 30% of the submitted motions some of which were dismissed by the court. As a result, the problems present in the system have led to a situation where only 5% of the eligible inmates were released on ECR in 2013.
“Civil Society Institute” NGO suggests reviewing the ECR mechanism and employ the following approach:
a. After the establishment of the Probation Service
The body to make the final decision on ECR should be the court. While making the decision the court is examining the twofold advisory report based on the information and evaluations provided by the PI and probation service. Reoffending risk of a prisoner eligible for ECR, the conditions offered while on probation should be assessed, as well as post-release rehabilitating and assisting means should be presented in the reports. The PI administration (a relevant specialist) should assess the data on the present and past of the inmate, and the probation employee is to assess the information on his/her future.
While assessing the risk of reoffending the following factors and their correlation should be analyzed and presented in a written narrative form: data on the inmate, the prosecution, education level, availability of a profession, occupation, family (marital) status, financial situation, leisure time while serving the sentence, the environment, mental and physical health, the behavior in the PI, the attitude towards the violation of the law and the system of criminal justice, the delinquent subculture, the crime committed, the victim, the availability of a shelter and possible difficulties related to it, the financial situation after the release, possible options of occupation (work, studies), the relationship with the family members and victim, the ambiance outside the PI, etc. A more detailed list of the factors is attached to the report.
The Probation Service makes the conclusion after having met the inmate and examining the case. If necessary, a staff member of the Probation Service should visit the inmate’s future shelter and talk to the members of the latter’s family. He/she should also meet the possible employer if the occupation issue is likely to be solved.
The inmate receives the mentioned report in order to familiarize himself/herself with it and present his/her point of view in case of objections. If the report is a negative one, the convict has the right to apply to the Head of the PI petitioning not to submit his/her ECR motion to the court. If the inmate does not petition within the prescribed period, the Head of the PI submits to the court the motion with the attached documents including the report. The aim of giving the convict the right of choice is the following: by receiving the report the inmate is the one to decide whether he/she wants to take the risk of being dismissed by the court without having the chance to apply for ECR for 6 months or by assessing the possibility of ECR, he/she prefers to work on rectifying the lapses and problems present in the report. After this the inmate will be reassessed in three months and then he/she can turn to the court. If the motion is sent to the court, the copy of the report is also sent to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The convict and, if available, his/her advocate, a PI representative, a probation employee and the prosecutor himself must be present at the hearing of the convict's case. The authors of the report present their position to the court after which the convict is given the opportunity to present his/her objections or point of view. Then the prosecutor presents his position considering his function of overseeing the lawfulness of the punishment. The probation employee also presents the ECR conditions and necessary rehabilitation program based on the assessment of the risk and needs. While making a decision on ECR the court examines the following issues: it checks the accuracy/relevancy of the assessment and the report based on it. While reviewing the ECR issue the court also decides if it is necessary to set the conditions suggested by the Probation Service. The court can confirm or decline the latter or offer new conditions. The court also examines (the issues of) the convict’s possibility and willingness to implement these conditions.
If the early conditionally released convict does not fulfill the conditions or does not fulfill them properly, the PS can mediate the court in reviewing the conditions or void the decision on ECR. In cooperation with the police the PS ensures the supervision of the fulfillment of the conditions. The Probation Service informs the police about the conditions.
b. Before launching the PS
After undertaking an appropriate training the employees of the Unit of the Execution of Alternative Punishments under the Penitentiary Department of the Ministry of Justice of Armenia can carry out the PS functions in the transitional period.