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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[17.12.23] Kyrgyzstan: Focus on the Juvenile Justice System

Davlet, 21, is a former convict at a juvenile prison, now studying at a university in the capital, Bishkek, and working for a Canadian international organization. "I got there [juvenile prison] for a piece of foolishness and served a six-year term for a public offence. At that time the term was a kind of record, but now there are kids who have to serve 12- to 15-year terms," he told IRIN.
He now helps the current inmates at the juvenile prison as a volunteer, and also sometimes helps at a rehabilitation center for former convicts. "Psychiatrists and psychologists at the center who worked with me for six months in the past helped me a lot. They helped me discover myself and gave me an opportunity to feel like a person. As everybody knows, after prison you feel useless and forgotten by everyone," he said.
Some reports say the total number of juvenile convicts in Kyrgyzstan normally varies between 190 and 250 annually, with theft as the most common offence. All of them are confined at the Voznesenovska correctional colony in Sokuluk District in the northern province of Chuy - the country's sole prison for young people.
There are now nearly 200 inmates at Voznesenovska. In addition to these there are 12 female convicts, but they are kept at the women's prison. Voznesenovska is only for males, of whom the youngest is 14, sentenced to six years for theft.
High Recidivism Rate
According to a survey conducted by the Association of NGOs and Non-Profit-Making Organizations (ANGONPO) on juvenile recidivism, more than half the juveniles convicted for first offences commit crimes again after being released.
Such a high rate of recidivism is attributed primarily to a lack of socioeconomic protection and employment opportunities for former juvenile convicts. When they are released, most of them have nowhere to go and nothing to do, and often actually commit crimes in order to be sent back to prison, where at least they have stable nutrition and shelter.
Davlet attributed the trend to the ineffectiveness of the country's correctional facilities. "I would like to point out that a correctional colony doesn't correct, but, on the contrary, badly traumatizes the psyche," he asserted.
"Unfortunately, the investigation process is conducted directly between the investigator, the court and the accused. In other words, an accused has no lawyer, as nobody can pay the legal costs," Toktoaiym Umetalieva, the head of the ANGONPO, told IRIN in Bishkek.
Sentencing Criteria Defective 
She added that in her view, the yardstick used by courts for sentencing was defective. She gave as an example a case in which a 15-year-old juvenile was sentenced to between 10 and 15 years' jail for a first offence, while the law stipulated a 12-year term for a second offence. "Our judicial system can be biased, and sometimes even inhuman. We must radically revise the Criminal Code in terms of children who break the law," Umetalieva stressed.
Concurring, Ivan Khalupov, the head of the Voznesenovska prison, told IRIN that there should be changes in the law. "I have worked here for more than 20 years, and to my mind the law has treated the underage convicts harshly. A 10- to 15-year term - it is not realistic. This is the time when his personality is being formed," he said. "In such a case there would a complete degradation of a young person. As an experienced worker within this system, I think that the maximum term shouldn't exceed seven years," he said.
In an effort to deal with recidivism, ANGONPO has launched a training facility to manufacture pasta and bakery products at Voznesenovska. The instructors are qualified teachers and give the young inmates an opportunity to apply their theoretical training in practical terms. The trainees are given certificates on completion of their training, with the aim of enhancing their job prospects on release.
Inadequate Resources 
However, there is another problem at Voznesenovska - lack of resources. During the Soviet era, the juvenile prison was funded directly from Moscow, with the local budget also contributing to it, thereby raising conditions at the facility to a higher level than those at many prisons for adults. But after the country became independent in 1991, the funding from Moscow ended and the funding for the juvenile prison was put on the same footing as those for adults.
"Today, the money allocated for the daily nutrition of an inmate is about 40 US cents, while 61 cents a year is allocated for the inmate's medical treatment," Khalupov said.
Lack of resources is also affecting post-sentence rehabilitation. "The rehabilitation centers, which are the most-needed institutions for former convicts, don't work in Kyrgyzstan due to a lack of funds," Umetalieva said.
Viktor Starostenko, the head of the rehabilitation department at the General Directorate on Corrections, told IRIN in Bishkek that it was necessary to develop and implement alternative correctional measures for underage convicts, such as house arrest or involvement in community work.

IRIN, December 17, 2003

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