Re-socialization of convicts: basic aspects, principles, standards

2015 2015-02-16T23:31:02+0300 2015-02-16T23:31:02+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

An expert on the prison system, lawyer Pavel Sapelka, analyzes the situation in the prisons of Belarus in the light of international standards and international practice of work with prisoners.

Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners*, Principle 10:
With the participation and help of the community and social institutions, and with due regard to the interests of victims, favourable conditions shall be created for the reintegration of the ex-prisoner into society under the best possible conditions.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners *, Rule 80:
From the beginning of a prisoner's sentence consideration shall be given to his future after release and he shall be encouraged and assisted to maintain or establish such relations with persons or agencies outside the institution as may promote the best interests of his family and his own social rehabilitation.

With minor exceptions, after serving a sentence of imprisonment a prisoner returns to the society he has left for a longer or shorter period. The possibilities of reintegrating former prisoners depend on
changes in their attitudes and habits, and, conversely, on how many positive features of character and relationships they have preserved. However, yesterday's prisoner will surely have fewer opportunities, and therefore needs a special status, which he can take advantage of, if necessary, and which could protect him from the danger of a return to the criminal environment.

Preparing prisoners for release and re-socialization must begin with the first days of sentence and include, at least the following aspects:

- The prisoner must recognize the superiority of honest labour as a source of social benefits;
- The prisoner must preserve and increase his/her professional skills and intellectual abilities;
- Those who did not have a profession, should get it while serving their sentences;
- The final period of the sentence should be devoted to active employment and search of housing, if necessary;
- Participation of public institutions in addressing social and domestic problems should be complemented by the widespread promotion by the state of assistance to prisoners by non-governmental institutions;
- Work with a former prisoner should preferably be carried by non-police structures and be based on a legislated reintegration program.

Of course, not all the important aspects have been mentioned, but it provides an opportunity to dwell on these ones in detail.

Prisoners' awareness of the benefits of honest work can be real in an environment where the work functions as a means of correction and complies with the essential criteria. In particular, this is indicated in international documents:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights *, Article 8:

3. (a) No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour;

(b) Paragraph 3 (a) shall not be held to preclude, in countries where imprisonment with hard labour may be imposed as a punishment for a crime, the performance of hard labour in pursuance of a sentence to such punishment by a competent court;

(c) For the purpose of this paragraph the term "forced or compulsory labour" shall not include:

(i) Any work or service, not referred to in subparagraph (b), normally required of a person who is under detention in consequence of a lawful order of a court, or of a person during conditional release from such detention;

Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners*, Principle 8:

Conditions shall be created enabling prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment which will facilitate their reintegration into the country's labour market and permit them to contribute to their own financial support and to that of their families.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners*, Rule 71:

(1) Prison labour must not be of an afflictive nature.

(2) All prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined by the medical officer.

(3) Sufficient work of a useful nature shall be provided to keep prisoners actively employed for a normal working day.

(4) So far as possible the work provided shall be such as will maintain or increase the prisoners, ability to earn an honest living after release.

(5) Vocational training in useful trades shall be provided for prisoners able to profit thereby and especially for young prisoners.

(6) Within the limits compatible with proper vocational selection and with the requirements of institutional administration and discipline, the prisoners shall be able to choose the type of work they wish to perform.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 72:

(1) The organization and methods of work in the institutions shall resemble as closely as possible those of similar work outside institutions, so as to prepare prisoners for the conditions of normal occupational life.

(2) The interests of the prisoners and of their vocational training, however, must not be subordinated to the purpose of making a financial profit from an industry in the institution.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 73:

(1) Preferably institutional industries and farms should be operated directly by the administration and not by private contractors.

(2) Where prisoners are employed in work not controlled by the administration, they shall always be under the supervision of the institution's personnel. Unless the work is for other departments of the government the full normal wages for such work shall be paid to the administration by the persons to whom the labour is supplied, account being taken of the output of the prisoners.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 74:

(1) The precautions laid down to protect the safety and health of free workmen shall be equally observed in institutions.

(2) Provision shall be made to indemnify prisoners against industrial injury, including occupational disease, on terms not less favourable than those extended by law to free workmen.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 75:

(1) The maximum daily and weekly working hours of the prisoners shall be fixed by law or by administrative regulation, taking into account local rules or custom in regard to the employment of free workmen.

(2) The hours so fixed shall leave one rest day a week and sufficient time for education and other activities required as part of the treatment and rehabilitation of the prisoners.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 76:

(1) There shall be a system of equitable remuneration of the work of prisoners.

(2) Under the system prisoners shall be allowed to spend at least a part of their earnings on approved articles for their own use and to send a part of their earnings to their family.

(3) The system should also provide that a part of the earnings should be set aside by the administration so as to constitute a savings fund to be handed over to the prisoner on his release.

Thus, there is a total prohibition of forced or slave labour. However, the international instruments listed above quite clearly show that the work being done by prisoners does not automatically fall under these categories. As held by scientists-criminologists, "Sentenced prisoners can be obliged to work provided certain safeguards are observed. These are:

- that the work should have a purpose;
- that the work should help them to acquire skills which will be useful to them after they are released;
- that prisoners should be paid for the work which they do;
- that the conditions of work should be broadly similar to those in any civilian workplace, particularly in respect of health and safety requirements;
- that the hours of work are not excessive and leave time for other activities."**

Many prisoners, particularly among the young ones, start working only in correctional institutions. It is therefore very important to ensure that the work does not lose its appeal for them. On the other hand, a large number of convicted persons who are held in correctional facilities have good skills and intend to resume their earlier activities upon release.

"Prison work can have two main aims. The first is the simple one of encouraging prisoners to become involved in a regular routine which involves getting up, going to a place of work and spending several hours each day working alongside other people in an organised manner. However, this is not sufficient in itself. There is little point in forcing prisoners to go each day to a workshop where the work is monotonous and not likely to be of any use to other people. The worst example of this was the system in the 19th century, called the crank or the treadmill, in which prisoners were required to turn great cylinders of sand for many hours each day for no purpose at all. There are many modern equivalents of this type of meaningless work.

The other aim of work is to give prisoners confidence and skills to carry out work which has a purpose, where they feel that they are learning in a way that will make it much more likely that they will find employment after their sentence has been completed. This means that prison work should be linked to training aimed at providing prisoners with work skills which will enable them to gain qualifications to work in traditional employment such as building, engineering, administration or farming. It may also be possible to include training in new skills such as computer work. This vocational training is especially important for younger prisoners. In designing these programmes it is particularly important to be aware of the type of employment opportunities which may be available in the local community to which the prisoner will return."**

The importance of providing women with access to the full range of possible work in prison is emphasized as well. They should not be limited only to such works as sewing and needlework.

In order to maintain the attractiveness for prisoners, work should be fairly paid. In world experience, there are two systems of remuneration of prisoners: the first provides for payment of a nominal fee, but does not impose obligations on the prisoners to pay the costs of their incarceration. Second, recognized more progressive, provides for the payment remuneration to prisoners on a par with the "free" workers and imposes the duty of prisoners to participate in the payment of the costs of incarceration, and compensate the harm to victims.

Surely, the second model of payment is implemented in Belarusian prisons with significant defects; in a way that overrides its benefits.

An eloquent argument is the appeal of the former convict Ales Bialiatski to the Department of Corrections, in which the human rights activist, notes the following:

"Over the specified time, I worked full time full week in the clothing industry, fully implementing the assigned tasks.

In accordance with the payslips, issued to me at the penal colony No. 2 in Babruisk, I received the following wages:

636,492 roubles for 5 months (the period from 01.04.2012 till 31.08.2012);
622,298 roubles for 5 months (the period from 01.09.2012 till 31.01.2013);
586,647 roubles for 8 months (the period from 02.01.2013 till 30.09.2013).

At the same periods of time the minimum wage in the country was set at:
April – August 2012 – from 1,000,000 to 1,104,640 roubles per month;
September 2012 – January 2013 – from 1,104,640 to 1,395,000 roubles per month;
February 2013 – September 2013 – from 1,395,000 to 1,464,790 roubles per month.

In accordance with Article 8 of the Criminal Executive Code of the Republic of Belarus, the State guarantees the protection of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of convicts, provides the statutory conditions for the imposition of application of penalties and other measures of criminal liability in respect of the convicts, guarantees social justice, their social, legal and other protection. During the execution of penalties and other measures of criminal liability the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Republic of Belarus must be observed with the limitations, provided by the criminal, criminal-executive and other legislation of the Republic of Belarus.

In accordance with Article 100 of the PEC, those who are sentenced to imprisonment are entitled to remuneration in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus. The wages of the convicts who have implemented the monthly norm of working time, keeping to the assigned production rates, can not be lower than the wages for the implementation of the relevant works established by the legislation of the Republic of Belarus. Remuneration to the convicted under part-time work or part-time working week is assigned proportionally to the time they have spent working and the production rate."

At the end of his appeal, the former political prisoner asks for an inspection with the aim to register a violation of the law of the Republic of Belarus in the sphere of payment of wages by the administration of PC №2 in Babruisk to him. He also demands to be provided with data about the established workload standards for clothing manufacture at PC №2 of Babruisk, the percentage of its implementation by him for the period from 01.04.2012 till 06.21.2014 and information about working off the monthly norm of working time in the form of excerpts from the timesheets of the working hours during the same period.

As a rule, such information is not given to prisoners while they are working, since the issuance of these documents is not provided for directly by the applicable law. This is wrong, as it groundlessly limits the labour rights of prisoners. Given the vulnerable situation of prisoners they should be, without additional reminders, provided with complete information on hours worked, the percentage of completion of the work assignment, the percentage of defects, the payment rates for piecework, the amount of the hourly wage, so that they would have no reasons to doubt in receiving a fair wage.

By the way, earlier research on discrimination of prisoners' rights in the labour sphere noted that, unlike other workers, prisoners have no benefits and compensations when combining work and study.

Meanwhile, it is study in correctional institutions which can be a powerful factor in the preparation of a convict to life after prison. However, Belarus has organized only the system of vocational education of prisoners, while getting a higher education degree or high quality teaching of foreign languages there remains impossible.

The order of assistance to the released in their employment and housing is enshrined in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. A more detailed description of these rules is contained in the resolution of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus of 15.01.2014 № 15 "On approval of the order of assistance in housing and employment of persons sentenced to restriction of freedom with the direction to a correctional facility of open type or imprisonment, by the administration of an institution of the penal system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus".

In accordance with the PEC, no later than three months before the expiry of the term of conviction, the administration of the institution of the correctional system takes measures for providing the employment and housing of the prisoner through the territorial bodies of internal affairs, the Committee on Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Minsk City Executive Committee and the Division on labour, employment and social protection of a city or a district executive committee. With regard to persons obliged to reimburse the expenses spent by the state for the maintenance of their children in public care, in the case of necessity of their employment the administration of the institution of the correctional system, not later than three months prior to the upcoming release, informs the court, local territorial bodies of the Internal Affairs and the Committee on Labour, Employment and social Protection of Minsk City Executive Committee, the Division on labour, employment and social protection of a city or a district executive committee in the place of residence of such persons. The order of assistance of the administration of the institution of the correctional system to convicted prisoners, referred to in this part, in employment and housing, is established by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus.

Starting from the date of actual completion of the punishment, the service of social adaptation of the institutions of the correctional system carries out educational work in order to prepare the prisoners for release, explaining their rights and obligations after release.

In the case of necessity and with their consent, persons with disabilities of groups I and II, as well as men over the age of 60 years and women over the age of 55 years, can be directed to nursing homes for the elderly and people with disabilities, by the Committee on Labour, Employment and social protection of a regional or Minsk city executive committee. Minors who have no parents can, if necessary, be passed to the guardianship authorities at the place of their residence for giving them the status of orphans or children left without parental care, and for their further housing.

Those who are released after the completion of the penalty in the form of arrest or imprisonment are provided with free travel to their place of residence or work, as well as with food or money for the travel, according to the established norms.

In the absence of the necessary seasonable clothing, shoes and money to purchase them those released after completion of the punishment are provided with free clothing and footwear and are issued with a one-time cash assistance.

The persons who are released after the completion of the penalty in the form of arrest or imprisonment have the right to be provided with a job and accommodation and receive other kinds of social assistance in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus.

Until recently, the latter provision had been largely declarative and was substantiated only after the adoption in 2006 of the Law "On Employment in the Republic of Belarus" and the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of 29.11.2006 № 1595 "On approval of the procedure for reserving jobs for the employment of citizens in need of social protection who are unable to compete equally at the labour market", by which former prisoners are classified as those who are particularly in need of social protection and are unable to compete equally at the labour market, and are provided with additional safeguards in the field of employment promotion.

From now on, local executive and administrative bodies shall reserve vacancies for employment of the citizens in need of social protection, who are unable to compete equally at the labour market, among employers regardless of the form of property.

Obviously, a new impetus to the work with former prisoners was to have been given by the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of 14.04.2014 № 347 "On approval of the Regulation on the order of organizing and funding the employment of citizens, released from correctional facilities, including partial reimbursement of the expenses for the payment for the work of such persons".

In accordance with the Regulation, employment of citizens, released from correctional institutions, is carried out in accordance with the legislation in the form of:

reserving an employment quota for this category of citizens by the employer;
assistance in finding suitable employment;
provision of vocational guidance services;
direction for training, retraining and advanced training;
assistance in the organization of business or services in the field of rural tourism, craft activities;
financing employers - organizations of any form of property, as well as individual entrepreneurs, providing jobs for this category of citizens, through partial reimbursement of wages for citizens released from correctional facilities.

Radically new is the last position. The expenses of the employers for the payment of wages to citizens, released from correctional facilities and employed on the initiative of labour, employment and social protection bodies, are partially reimbursed by the State Fund of Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus, in case the employed citizens:

served a prison sentence imposed by a court, at least three consecutive years;
registered with agencies for labour, employment and social protection as unemployed within six months from the date of their release;
could not find a suitable job for reasons independent of them within three months from the date of their registration as unemployed, or registered as unemployed after training, retraining and advanced training to which they had been directed by the agencies for labour, employment and social protection.

Nevertheless, a prisoner cannot attain a sustainable financial position thanks to the norm regarding compensation of the employer's expenditures: the budget of the fund is used for reimbursing only the expenses of employers for paying wages which don't exceed the minimum wage at the time of the payment, as well as the amount of compulsory insurance contributions to the state non-budget fund of social protection of the population of the Republic of Belarus, calculated for the minimum wage.

If there are some citizens released from correctional facilities, who match the requirements of the Regulation, the agency for labour, employment and social protection holds negotiations with the employers who, in compliance with the legally established order have presented information about the availability of jobs (vacancies) that are suitable for employment of such citizens, about their employment on the terms of the Regulation. With the consent of the employer, the agency for labour, employment and social protection sends to him the citizens, whose professional qualities meet the requirements of the employer, for employment.

It is difficult to assess the efficiency and sufficiency of the measures aimed at re-socialization of prisoners in such a relatively short period of time of action of the Regulation. The statistics witness a decline in recidivism in 2014 compared with the previous year by 6.8%. Nevertheless, out of the 49,943 offenders in 2014, 19,714 had criminal records, 30,056 were neither working nor studying. At the end of 2013 Belarus had 10,052 persons sentenced to imprisonment three or more times. To understand the actual extent of recidivism it should be born in mind that the statistics do not include the persons who committed repeated crimes after the removal or expiry of their criminal record.

These figures indicate the persistence of the problem of an effective resocialization of former prisoners and the need to change the approach to this process, so that ideally every prisoner would be released from jail with certain guarantees of employment in a particular workplace and, if necessary, obtain housing.

Implementation of these ideas should help to secure the right of convicted persons to go out of the colony to find work and housing, to adapt to life in freedom, restoring family and social ties.

It would be useful to introduce these rules into the Criminal-Executive Code with conditions similar to those which let prisoners to travel to and from work without escort, to travel outside the colony in exceptional cases, or allowing women with children to live outside the colony.


* Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners. Adopted by resolution 45/111 of the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1990.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council in their resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of May 13, 1977.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted by resolution 2200A (XXI) of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 16 December 1966.

** A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management. Handbook for prison staff. Andrew Coyle. Publication of the International Centre for Prison Studies (MTSTD).