PRISNET: Network to empower volunteering work within the prison system in Europe and in the Western Balkans

Author: megi / Date: 17-02-2015 /

PRISNET: Network to empower volunteering work within the prison system in Europe and in the Western Balkans
2011

AIIS was the Albanian Partner of Italian organization AGENFOR in the PRISNET project targeting inmates of various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

On July 8-9 all the partners involved in the PRISSNET regional project financed by the European Commission were hosted in Tirana Albania participating in the conference titled “ Minorities in the prisons of the Western Balkans”, a two day event followed by a field visit to an Albanian prison facility on the final third day. The conference was conceived to have an official and media event on Friday with the participation of key, high profile figures from the public administration, academia, civil society, international community, diplomacy, etc. The second day was devoted to more in depth experts’ discussions through Expert User Group (EUG) meetings, one for law enforcement agencies and one for civil society organizations (CSOs).

FRIDAY 8th July, 2011

The official launching event of this conference brought very high level participants form the Albanian government such as Minister of Internal Affairs Bujar Nishani, vice Minister and acting Minister of Justice Brikena Kasmi, several representatives an department executive directors from the Ministry of Justice, ministry of Labor, official representatives from State Committee for Minorities, People’s Advocate, the General directorate of Prisons of Albania (GDPA), etc. From the international community there was an official address form the head of the EU delegation in Albania, Ettore Sequi, participation also from different embassies such as the Italian Embassy, the Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian and Turkish one.

Conference gathered a vast array of civil society experts with experience in the field of human rights and minority rights and with specific ongoing projects in the prison system, legal professors and journalists. In his opening address, executive director of AIIS Albert Rakipi expressed the need to share different best practices between states in order to achieve European standards in all participating countries. Rakipi focused on some specificities of the Albanian society that have influenced the management of prisons in a positive way such a long tradition of religious harmony and coexistence between ethnic minorities.

AIIS head also mentioned the main approaches form which we can consider minority rights in prison including security concerns (radicalization and internal conflict) , the human rights point of view ( deprivation form liberty but not from other basic rights), and identity approach (the elements forming personal identity such as ethnic belonging and religion). Rakipi concluded that this conference goes beyond academic and scholarly curiosity to address potential recommendations important for the process of EU preparation.

Minister Nishani focused on the role of the institutions of penal execution (prisons) and especially their staff to reform the mentality of the society that has considered prisons for a long time as solely restricting facilities and has overlooked their function as facilities where the process of rehabilitation is carried out and also where the reintegration to the society has to start. Nishani appreciated the conference as an opportunity to hear valid outside opinions in order to improve the functioning of this system. Nishani expressed ample gratitude for the EU investments in the prisons’ system such as important infrastructure investment (both building and rehabilitating facilities) and also restructuring projects such as placing inmates in facilities that are geographically closer to their families (with a proven effect of reducing aggressive tendencies). Nishani stressed that both in public perception and most importantly in legislation as well there are no distinctions being made for the treatment of minorities be it in normal life but also in the prison system. Nishani stressed that discrimination is strictly prohibited by law and that Albania is unique in this region for having adopted a special Law against Discrimination and creating subsequently the office of the Commissioner for Protections against Discrimination. He mentioned also measures have been taken for the religion aspect: the creation of dedicated spaces for the practicing of religion inside facilities and the training of staff to accommodate and treat differences with respect and professionalism. Nishani mentioned report form the Anti-torture Committee form the Council of Europe that according to hi have evidenced improvements. Nishani concluded by welcoming initiatives of the civil society the aim at preventing radicalization as important and valuable contributions for the addressing of problems.

Brikena Kasmi, Vice Minister of Justice of Albania (there is currently no appointed Minister of Justice) focused on the legal strategies that have streamlined the respect for human rights into the laws and regulations adopted, respecting all obligation from international conventions. Kasmi mentioned that one of the main achievements is a contemporary regulation for the rights of inmates and the responsibilities of the prisons staff that is distributed in all relevant facilities and starting form 2010 separate specific regulations for each facility. Kasmi mentioned ongoing initiatives that have yet to be finalized such as the creation of the probation option and the alternative penalties that lead to less crowding of prison buildings. Kasmi mentioned that there are improvements in the access to medical assistance. Kasmi concluded by saying that strategic component should not be underestimated as it include concrete budgetary allocations for the realization of changes and needed improvements.

Ettore Sequi explained the focus of the EU in assisting Albania to come closer to European standards as far as the prisons system is concerned. According to Seqqui the antidiscrimination in difficult environments such as prisons is a true test for democratic values and principles. He cited Dostoyevsky in saying that the situation of prisons is indicative of the progress of a civilization. Sequi said that prisons by their very secluded, out-of-the public eye nature are places where people are vulnerable. Sequi mentioned that the 12 recommendations that the EU has given to Albania to fulfill before applying for the candidate status include specific references to the prisons and remand system. Sequi explained finally that Albania has still a way to go to transform its prisons to be fit for democracy such as creating a safe climate inside the facilities, allocating the proper budget to the sector and training the staff. Sequi repeated that the EU has pushed for the adoption of recommendations outlined by both the People’ Advocate and the Council of Europe.

The event followed with two key presentations from the Vice General Director of the Prisons, Iljaz Labi who outlined the situation in the prison as far as minorities are concerned from an institutional point of view.1 This was followed by a presentation of Vjollca Mecaj, the executive director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee who presented some of the main observations from the civil society point of view as well as delved on some projects that focused on the issue at hand.2

 

SUNDAY 10th July, 2011

Having acquired prior permission from the GDPA and also having coordinated with the staff, AIIS organized a field visit to a prison facility in Tirana “Ali Demi 325” which features two separate sections, one for men and one for women. A delegation with project participants had the opportunity to visit the facility, talk to several members of the staff both from the security sector (guards, security officers) and social workers internal to the prison administration, examine the prayer rooms, libraries, courtyards of the facility as well as talk to some prisoners of foreign nationality and Roma community.