Prison Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the key element in the criminal justice system

Sarajevo 03/06/2016
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© Council of Europe

© Council of Europe

The final conference of two complementary projects on the prison reform was held on 3 June 2016 in Sarajevo. The Council of Europe implemented both projects in parallel over the past four years: the Joint EU/CoE Programme “Harmonisation of BiH sanctions policies and practices with European standards” and the Voluntary Contribution from the US authorities “Support to prison staff training in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

The overall programme resulted, among other, with the following:

  • proposed legal framework to improve implementation of community sanctions through over 50 draft amendments to criminal legislation in BiH submitted to local authorities, paving the way for a more efficient supervision of offenders in the community (criminal codes, criminal procedure codes, laws on execution of criminal sanctions),
  • consideration of options for the establishment of probation services through a series of documents assessing different modalities and structures of future probation services, a draft framework law on probation applicable in all three prison jurisdictions in BiH and the accompanying Action Plan for a phased introduction of probation concept,
  • over 600 prison staff of various profiles and categories trained on core (280 prison officers in daily contact with prisoners), advanced (200 security supervisors and treatment officers-mid managers) and management competencies (50 senior prison managers-deputies and assistant directors for different prison functions),
  • a series of promotional activities (public debates and round tables) among wider professional community organised under each component of the prison reform programme to present programme proceedings and promote their further use,
  • drafting of the Memorandum on cooperation in the field of prison staff training between the CoE and three Ministries of Justice, which systematises training activities and structures across BiH prison jurisdictions.

The closing event was attended by over 100 policy makers, prison professionals, as well as representatives of the Office of Ombudsman, civil society, academia and international agencies active in justice sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Besides serving as a venue to promote programme proceedings, the Conference also highlighted the need to continue sustaining local ownership over the prison staff training structure(s) harmonised across prison jurisdictions in BiH. The draft Memorandum on cooperation between the CoE and the three MoJs in BiH in the field of prison staff training offers the possibility of applying training framework on core, advanced, treatment and management competencies as a part of phasing out strategy. It combines the existing institutional training framework with the competencies-based practical approach to training. The result of this, probably the most important project proceeding, the staff becomes equipped with necessary skills to offer tailor-made treatment programmes and purposeful activities to prisoners, all the while maintaining the necessary level of custodial safety and protecting public security in general.

The crucial requirement for this development is creating the necessary legislative framework that supports application of the draft Memorandum. Republika Srpska authorities recently amended the existing Law on execution of criminal sanctions to foster application of CoE-developed training programme in annual training plans in individual prison establishments. It is expected that the BiH Ministry of Justice will follow with legislative amendments shortly. Although the Federation of BiH justice authorities recognise that a lot still remains to be done in the penitentiary field, they undertook to find a practical solution to apply the said Memorandum before the end of June 2016.

Representatives of the prison reform programme in BiH donors, Mr Paul Horowitz, Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in BiH and Mr Melvin Asin, Head of Cooperation in the EU Delegation in BiH, commended local authorities for their excellent work culminating with four years of close cooperation. They underlined their expectations for continuing this fruitful cooperation in future and assessed the role of local partners as instrumental in the implementation of the prison reform programme, spanning over more than a decade.

Mr Ivan Koedjikov, Head of Action against Crime Department in the Council of Europe Headquarters Office in Strasbourg emphasized the crucial importance of the CoE membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road towards the EU integration. The systematic approach to reforming prisons in BiH and work has to continue to meet the objectives set for the country. The strategic alliance of the EU-CoE Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkan countries for 2016-2018 will have a major role in supporting this effort in the future.

The Final Conference concluded with encouraging local authorities to commit themselves to advancing and consolidating results of the Prison Reform Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina further.